Suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or (COPD), can feel like there’s an elephant right on your chest. COPD – a collective term for progressive lung disease including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis – can also put a huge weight on families.
More than 24 million people in the U.S. suffer from COPD – and estimates say more than half of them don’t know it. Don’t let COPD take over your life – get screened before you lose lung function.
“If you start finding yourself susceptible to respiratory infections or you’re having shortness of breath regularly, it may be time to consider the risk factors and symptoms to see if you are at risk,” says Pradeep Kulkarni, MD, Pulmonary Clinical Care & Sleep Specialist.
Should I get tested?
“People who have smoked for more than 10 years should always consider themselves at risk for COPD,” says Dr. Kulkarni. A simple, non-invasive spirometry test will measure how well your lungs are working.
You may also have COPD and should get tested if you:
- Have a history of smoking
- Have long-term exposure to air pollutants (including pollution and second-hand smoke)
- Have frequent chronic coughing with or without sputum
- Experience a tightness in the chest
- Cannot keep up with people your own age
- Have a history of COPD in your family
- Have wheezing
- Have shortness of breath that has become worse over time
Heredity can play a role… even if you’ve never smoked or been exposed to irritants at work. Emphysema2 is connected to common genetic risk factor, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD). If you don’t have enough Alpha-1 Antitrypsin protein in your bloodstream, white blood cells begin to harm the lungs, and your lungs begin to deteriorate.
Why should I get tested?
It’s important to find the right treatment. “Not all shortness of breath is COPD, and not all shortness of breath in smokers is COPD,” says Dr. Kulkarni. Untreated COPD symptoms often get worse faster than if they are treated with the right therapy or medication. You can’t get lung function back once it’s lost and there is no cure for COPD, but there is hope for a better life with early treatment and screening.
What can I do about COPD?
If you’re diagnosed with COPD, your doctor will work with you to design a treatment plan around your unique condition. That may include oxygen therapy, medication, breathing techniques, pulmonary rehabilitation, exercise, tips for staying healthy and improving the air quality at home. Above all, quit smoking. “Specialty clinics go a long way in helping patients quit smoking,” says Dr. Kulkarni. “A specialty clinic can educate you about the disease, as well as clarify the diagnosis and any misconceptions.”