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Are Your Lungs Trying to Tell You Something? Take the First Step to Breathing Better, Learn More about COPD

Posted Nov 07 2011 10:04pm

Are you always stopping and resting because you’re short of breath, wheezing or coughing? Do you find that you have trouble with simple, daily tasks like climbing stairs, carrying groceries or doing laundry? If this sounds like you, your lungs could be trying to tell you something. You could be experiencing symptoms of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a serious lung disease that over time makes it hard to breathe. This November, as part of National COPD Awareness Month, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is asking people who may be exhibiting symptoms of COPD to listen to their lungs.

COPD, also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, recently surpassed stroke as the third leading cause of death in the United States. In people who have COPD, the airwaystubes that carry air in and out of your lungsare partially blocked, which makes it hard to get air in and out. The disease develops slowly and can worsen over time. COPD affects as many as 24 million Americans yet half of them go undiagnosed.

While one in five adults over the age of 45 have COPD, many dismiss their symptoms as a normal consequence of aging or being out of shape. Symptoms of COPD can include:

Constant cough
Wheezing
Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
Excess production of sputum (or phlegm)
Inability to take a deep breath
Chest tightness
Feeling like you can’t breathe

COPD occurs most frequently in current and former smokers age 40 and up. However, as many as one out of six people with COPD have never smoked. People who have had long-term exposure to things that can irritate the lungs, such as certain chemicals, secondhand smoke, dust or fumes in the workplace, may also be at risk for developing COPD. Additionally, COPD can also be caused by a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin, or AAT, deficiency.

“COPD is more common than many people realize. That is why it is so important for people to know whether they may be at risk, recognize their symptoms and seek treatment from a doctor or health care provider,” said James P. Kiley, Ph.D. director, Division of Lung Diseases, at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. “There is no cure for COPD but early diagnosis and treatment can really make a difference in a person’s chances at improving their quality of life.”

COPD can be diagnosed with a simple breathing test called spirometry. If you are at risk for COPD, don’t ignore the symptoms, your lungs might be trying to tell you something. Take the first step now to breathing better by scheduling an appointment to talk with your doctor or other health care provider and learn more about COPD. You can find more information at COPD.nhlbi.nih.gov . This educational web site is part of the COPD Learn More Breathe Better® awareness campaign from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.


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