In honor of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month, we’d like to help you gain a better understanding of the disease. If you think COPD is an uncommon disease, you are mistaken. More than 3 million cases are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. From the definition of COPD to its diagnosis and treatment, the professionals at Greene County Medical Center are here for you. Join us as we walk through the most common questions surrounding COPD.
What is COPD
According to the COPD Foundation, COPD is an overarching term used to describe progressive diseases of the lung. These diseases cause breathing-related problems from airflow blockage. COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis. Patients with COPD have an increased risk of developing tiredness or irregular sleep habits, such as sleep apnea.
What Causes COPD?
While the exact cause for COPD is different from person to person, there are a few common contributors.
Smoking Tobacco- The vast majority of cases find long-term cigarette smoking to be the common cause of COPD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that smoking accounts for as many as eight out of 10 COPD-related deaths. People who have asthma and smoke have an even greater chance of getting COPD.
“Although the numbers show that we have seen a decline in smokers over the decades, as a physician, I see on a regular basis the devastating effects smoking can cause,” states Dr. Jim Meyer, UnityPoint Clinic pulmonologist. “Informing patients, because of their smoking, they now have COPD or cancer is one of the more difficult parts of my job. Disease associated with smoking not only affects the smoker but also their loved ones. However, I always tell my patients there is hope. By quitting smoking they can dramatically improve their quality of life and in some cases stop their disease from progressing further. Studies have shown that even 50-year-olds can cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half, compared to those who continue to smoke.”
Environmental Factors- Long-term exposure to dust, chemicals, metals and other harmful vapors can cause COPD. This extensive exposure of irritants is often caused by a work environment or long-term residence. In addition to long-term exposure, short-term exposure to a higher amount of irritants can also lead to COPD.
Genetic Factors- The most common genetic risk factor for COPD, especially emphesema2, is Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD). This is caused by a deficiency of the Alpha-1 Antitrypsin protein in the bloodstream.
Symptoms and Treatment of COPD
Shortness of breath, sleeplessness, coughing and wheezing are just a few of several symptoms of COPD. The most common symptom is coughing or clearing of the throat. People with COPD can have a cough that lingers for months at a time. This cough is often accompanied and caused by an increase of mucus in the lungs.
While these might look like immediate red flags for some, they can go unnoticed for years before COPD is diagnosed. More than 15 million people are living with COPD and even more are unaware that they have it. If you or anyone you know have experienced any of the previous symptoms, schedule an exam immediately. After a careful exam from your primary care provider, he or she will be able to create a treatment plan that’s best for you.
If smoking is the cause of COPD, quitting smoking is the best way to combat damages that have already been done. If you struggle with quitting, talk with your primary care provider to find a program to best help you reach your goals.
Treating COPD varies from patient to patient. Medications may work for some, while others must undergo surgery or pulmonary rehabilitation. Greene County Medical Center has a variety of state-of-the-art treatment options available. Our care management team at Greene County Medical Center works closely with Dr. Meyer and his staff so that patients with COPD can improve their health close to home.
If you’re suffering from any of the mentioned symptoms, reach out to the experts at Greene County Medical Center. Our respiratory therapy department, as well as Dr. James Meyer and his staff, are here to help test, diagnose and treat patients of all ages for COPD.