Wheezing, a tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing—all of these are symptoms of the common cold. Now imagine experiencing these symptoms not just for a couple of weeks, but all the time. This is the reality for those living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
Dr. Ahmad Saltagi, a pulmonologist at Riverview Hospital and Medical Director of Riverview Hospital Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, explains what COPD is, including the symptoms and how to prevent it.
COPD—the third leading cause of death in the US—causes those living with it to have difficulty breathing. Like many other diseases, COPD gets worse over time. With COPD, the airways and air sacs of the lungs become inflamed and stretched, resulting in a loss of elasticity and functionality. This leads to labored breathing and other symptoms because of the lack of air to and from the air sacs and airways.
The two most common forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. And most people who live with COPD are living with both of these conditions.
The most common risk factor for COPD is smoking. Another risk factor is breathing in irritants such as dust, chemicals, gases or pollution for long periods of time. While COPD is a treatable disease, there is no cure.
Often times, symptoms of COPD are mild. Many people attribute symptoms to other conditions or ignore them altogether. Eventually, the symptoms worsen and warrant a trip to the doctor. The severity of COPD symptoms depends on the amount of lung damage that has occurred.
Many people may be living with COPD and be unaware, so it’s important to know the symptoms of COPD. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath, particularly with physical activity.
- An ongoing cough and/or a cough that produces significant amounts of mucus— often referred to as “smoker’s cough.”
- Tightness in your chest.
- Repeated bouts of the flu or the common cold.
The key to COPD prevention is to stop it before it starts. For those living with COPD, taking preventive measures may help slow or lessen symptoms. Preventive measures include:
- Not smoking. Do not start smoking, and if you are currently a smoker, quit. If you need help quitting, find a local tobacco cessation program. Riverview Hospital offers a seven-week “Freedom from Smoking” smoking cessation program. For more information, call 317.776.7484.
- Protection from irritants. If you work in an environment where you are exposed to chemicals or other harmful irritants, be sure you’re wearing the proper protective equipment to prevent dangerous fumes from entering your airways. In addition, avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible.
Riverview Hospital Better Breathers Support Group
Riverview Hospital offers a quarterly support group for those living with pulmonary conditions, including COPD, as well as caregivers, friends and family members. Better Breathers meetings offer an opportunity to connect with others and hear from a variety of experts.
The next Better Breathers meeting will take place in December 2013. For more information on Better Breathers and upcoming meeting dates and times, contact Riverview Hospital Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at 317.776.7377.