In the medical community COPD means Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, but to those who suffer from it, COPD stands for a lifetime of difficulty breathing, occasional coughing and strained wheezing. More than 10 million Americans have COPD, which is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the Unitied States and costs $42 billion per year in medical expenses. While previously assumed to afflict only older men who smoke, more women than men are now hospitalized from COPD each year due to the smoking fad over the last century.
With an overwhelming 85% of COPD cases linked to smoking, the easiest solution to prevent COPD is to quit smoking and decrease exposure to secondhand smoke. COPD is a progressive disease, meaning that it will worsen and intensify with time, particularly for those who smoke. This is a particular threat to the state of New York, where 16% of adults are current smokers.
COPD arises from a combination of two diseases: emphysema, which destroys the air sacs deep in the lungs, and chornic bronchitis, which causes congestion. COPD sufferers can also expect occasional exacerbations, or attacks, when symptoms flare up more violently. These exacerbations are often triggered by respiratory tract infections or environmental conditions and can be decreased by staying away from those conditions that cause the greatest discomfort.
COPD sufferers are often misdiagnosed with asthma, which makes COPD harder to treat correctly. COPD and asthma differ in the age of onset. Asthma frequently occurs during childhood or adolescence and COPD most commonly surfaces in an individual's mid-40s. When properly identified, COPD symptoms can be eased through inhaled drugs, nutrition, steroids to reduce inflammation and facilitate breathing, and oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy involves measuring a patient's oxygen level, and then, if necessary, prescribing portable devices to deliver oxygen to patients when they are not supplying enough on their own. The disease can be frustrating for patients - support groups such as New York's Better Breathers Clubs can provide a sounding board and help to lessen aggravation.
Researchers are on a vigilant quest to determine new means of treating COPD, including investigating gene therapy and a method known as Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation (NPPV), which has been known to improve lung function. The medical community is also working hard to raise awareness of this debilitating ailment.
"It is crucial that we educate the community and increase New York's familiarity with COPD," said Dr. Navarra Rodriguez, Chief Medical Officer of Manhattan's Physician Group. "This disease, though often underestimated, is quickly becoming one of the greatest threats to our nation's health."
To learn more about COPD and find which treatment or prevention plan is right for you, speak with your doctor.