What is COPD?

November is National COPD Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time to spread the word about early diagnosis and treatment. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.A., but a lot of people have never even heard of it.

Keep in mind that this blog isn’t trying to give medical advice. We’re just focusing on spreading awareness of COPD this month, because knowledge can save lives!

What is COPD?
COPD is an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, both of which you may have heard of before. While smoking is generally accepted as the largest contributing factor to COPD symptoms, it’s important to note that 1 in 4 people with COPD have never smoked. How can that be possible? Well, environmental factors like pollution, occupational hazards, dust, contaminants, and poor air quality are all also contributing factors.With so many possible causes, it’s important to spread information. Plus, to make matters more complicated, COPD can be broken down into two illnesses:

  • Emphysema is caused by air pollutants, hereditary factors, smoking/secondhand smoke, and respiratory infections that cause damage to the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli).
  • Chronic Bronchitis is characterized by long-term inflammation in the breathing passages of the lungs (bronchi). Both of these diseases fall under the COPD umbrella.

Both of these diseases fall under the COPD umbrella.

What are common symptoms?

Before you read these, it’s important to remember that only a doctor can diagnose COPD. These are common symptoms seen in people with the disease, but any combination of these might indicate something else entirely.

We always recommend seeking out professional medical care for any health concerns you may have, especially since many of these symptoms are shared with COVID-19.

With that said, the common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Increased mucus production
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Feeling unable to take a full breath

COPD symptoms typically develop slowly over time and may not be noticeable at first. In advanced stages, severe COPD can make it hard to perform everyday activities like preparing food, walking the dog, or going upstairs to bed. 

Photo of a smiling older adult wearing a birthday cake hat on their head, and using supplemental oxygen.
An older adult living a full life while using supplemental oxygen.

Who can get COPD?

COPD is most often diagnosed in middle-aged or older adults. According to the American Lung Association, COPD affects 16.4 million adults. It accounts for millions of emergency department visits and tens of billions in healthcare costs each year. Studies show that women smokers are about 50% more likely to develop COPD than men, but everyone needs to be aware of the serious risks behind this disease.

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t want to scare you with those metrics, but we want you to know the facts, since COPD can dramatically impact the someone’s day to day life!

Is COPD preventable?

Although some factors are unavoidable, choosing not to smoke is the single best way to help avoid COPD. If you are a current smoker, consider cutting back or quitting. Try to reduce environmental air quality hazards, both in your home and work setting. You can do this by avoiding long term exposure to dust, fumes and chemicals, or by investing in a quality air filter.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for COPD. However, although a lot of patients experience irreversible severe lung damage, the disease as a whole is treatable. Many people can live a good life with treatment. Remember: early identification and intervention and proper symptom management are the best ways to help reduce associated health risks and improve overall quality of life. 

If you have more questions about COPD or other medical inquiries, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider. They can help you get the information you need. If you are a participant in the LifeCircles Long Term Care Program, please contact your clinical team if you have questions about your illness or treatment. If you or a loved one use oxygen daily to manage shortness of breath, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), you may be eligible for support from LifeCircles PACE. Give us a call at 616-347-3477 or click here to learn more about our comprehensive wellness services.

Picture of lungs with text that says "November is COPD Awareness Month"
Last Updated on November 18, 2021