November is National COPD Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn more about living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
COPD is a leading cause of disability and death in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association. More than 12.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COPD, but millions more may have the disease without knowing it.
COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing respiratory infections, heart disease, lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension and depression. Also, if you have a chronic lung disease such as COPD, you may be at greater risk of severe illness and complications from COVID-19.
Factors that can increase your risk of COPD include exposure to tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke; asthma; occupational exposure to dust and chemicals; exposure to fumes from burning fuel; and genetics.
Symptoms of COPD often don't appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time, particularly if cigarette smoke exposure continues.
Signs and symptoms of COPD can include:
If you've been diagnosed with COPD and you smoke, it is important that you quit. Most cases of COPD in the U.S. are directedly related to long-term cigarette smoking. Stopping smoking can prevent COPD from worsening and reducing your ability to breathe.
Many people with COPD have mild forms of the disease for which little therapy is needed other than quitting smoking. Even for more advanced stages of the disease, effective therapy is available that can control symptoms, slow progression, reduce your risk of complications and exacerbations, and improve your ability to lead an active life.
Treatment for COPD can include medications, lung therapies, in-home noninvasive ventilation therapy, managing exacerbations and surgery.
Living with COPD can be a challenge — especially as it becomes harder to catch your breath. You may have to give up some activities you previously enjoyed. Your family and friends may have difficulty adjusting to some of the changes.
It can help to share your fears and feelings with your family, friends and healthcare team. You also may want to consider joining a support group for people with COPD, and you may benefit from counseling or medication if you feel depressed or overwhelmed.
If you have COPD, these strategies can help you feel better and slow the damage to your lungs: