Learning More About COPD Can Help You Breathe Better

by Kathi MacNaughton Health Professional

Did you know that COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States now? And that despite that fact, millions of people have never even heard of COPD or understand what it is? That's right, 1 out of every 3 Americans remain unaware of COPD.

Increasing public awareness of diseases such as COPD is important:

  • It can help people recognize that COPD is a serious condition,

  • It can help people get the care they need, and understand that COPD is treatable,

  • It can bring people and groups together to advocate for research and improvements in treating this common illness,

Learn More

COPD, which is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a blanket term, which includes a group of progressive, serious lung diseases whose main symptom is that it is hard to breathe. In people who have COPD, the airways tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs are partially blocked, which leads to these symptoms:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called "smoker's cough"

  • Shortness of breath while doing activities you used to be able to do

  • Excess sputum production

  • Feeling like you can't breathe

  • Not being able to take a deep breath

  • Wheezing

Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma and a rarer genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency all fall under the umbrella of COPD.

More than 12 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COPD. Probably another 12 million people have it, but don't know it yet. This disease can cause serious disability over time, interfering with even the most basic life tasks. And COPD kills more than 120,000 people each year.

But, despite these facts, there is still hope

Breathe Better

They say "knowledge is power" and this is definitely true when it comes to COPD. COPD is a serious illness that does worsen over time. But, it's important to remember that there are many effective treatments for COPD that can greatly reduce its impact on your life. Taking action early and effectively may even delay the progression of the illness for a time, sometimes for years.

One of the best ways for you to take action is by establishing good communication with your health care professional team. It's a well-known fact. Good communication between providers and patients is especially important for managing a chronic disease, such as COPD.

Be proactive in managing your health. Think of yourself as an equal partner with your health care team, not an unwilling participant. Studies show that patients who feel they are informed and part of the decision-making process are more likely to stick with a treatment plan, and subsequently manage their disease more effectively.

Don't be afraid to share your symptoms with your health care team, no matter how minor they may seem. Why don't patients always share symptoms? Here are a few reasons COPD patients might not be entirely forthcoming:

  • You don't want to hear another "quit smoking" message.

  • You're afraid tests or treatments will be prescribed that will be hard for you to afford.

  • You think the symptoms might go away on their own over time.

  • You are reluctant to admit that you might have a serious health issue.

Any of those reasons sound familiar? If they do, remember there are support groups, both locally and online, that can help with quitting smoking and/or disease management. There are often low-cost alternatives for testing and treatment.

And most important, it is still possible to have a positive quality of life with COPD, but your health care provider must know about your symptoms in order to help treat you effectively!

Join the Public Fight

If you would like to advocate for COPD sufferers, COPD research and improvements in COPD treatment for all, then you might like to get involved in raising awareness of COPD.

There are many ways to do this. You could join a national advocacy group or a local one. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • The NIH's COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign offers several ways to get involved.

  • The U.S. COPD Coalition also provides a number of levels of involvement for patients and their supporters, health care professionals and other advocacy groups.

If we work together, we can improve awareness, treatment and quality of life for COPD sufferers and their caregivers. So, let's get started!

Kathi  MacNaughton
Meet Our Writer
Kathi MacNaughton

Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she's been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.