“What is COPD?” (And 4 Other Important Questions Answered)

COPD Awareness Month

You’ve probably heard about COPD before, but do you know what COPD is, what causes it and what you can do to prevent it?

Because November is COPD Awareness Month, now is the best time to get informed about this debilitating group of diseases. Here are five frequently asked questions:

What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and refers to a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that cause breathing-related issues.

What causes COPD?

Tobacco smoke is a key element in the development of COPD. In addition, respiratory infections, air quality, heredity and age also play a role.

COPD is usually a progressive condition that begins with shortness of breath or coughing and later develops into a chronic cough or more serious symptoms.

How many people have COPD?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates upward of 15.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD. However, the CDC also estimates that more than half of those with COPD don’t yet know they have it. In Maryland, COPD affects nearly 6% of the population.

What can happen to someone if they have COPD?

For many, COPD results in a chronic cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. For others, the complications from COPD can lead to a handful of serious issues that impact quality of life — from making physical activity nearly impossible to being forced to use a portable oxygen tank.

How can COPD be prevented or managed?

If you’re a smoker, quitting is vital to preventing or managing COPD. Avoiding places with a notably high level of air pollutants is also important.

Although there is no cure for COPD, there are several things you can do to manage symptoms and maintain a high quality of life. The American Lung Association has numerous resources for people dealing with COPD that are worth checking out.

As with any chronic disease, having support is a good way to stay positive and on track with your health and wellness goals. Better Breathers Clubs, like the one we have at our hospital, provides patient-focused, community-based support for people with COPD and other lung diseases. Learn more about the Better Breathers Club at UM Charles Regional Medical Center on the American Lung Association’s website.

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