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COPD: One More Reason To Quit Smoking

X-ray of cardiac obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

You’re short of breath after a flight of stairs or other daily activities. It might be fatigue, lack of exercise – or maybe COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a group name for lung diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema that block airflow and make breathing difficult. It’s also a condition the Affordable Care Act’s keeping closer tabs on beginning next month. 

In this edition of Vital Signs, Tom Kallstrom, CEO of the American Association for Respiratory Care, explains more about COPD.

From Tom Kallstrom’s interview…

What is COPD?  It’s a respiratory component that often times, unless it’s discovered and diagnosed, it continues to deteriorate and cause more problems for the patient. About 24 million people in this country with COPD. Half of them have not been diagnosed…because it happens over time. It’s a slow disease. So, we try to make sure patients are diagnosed early, and if you’re treated, you should be able to expect to have a better quality of life.

Who’s usually diagnosed with COPD, mostly older people? Generally speaking, the age of 35 is the cut-off mark. It used to be that we’d look at 45 or 50, but over the last few years, they brought it down to about 35. The thing that’s interesting about this as well is. There’s more women than men with COPD. That kind of flip-flopped about ten years ago.  There is a genetic component of COPD that, if you smoked or not, you could have the symptoms of COPD as well, but you’re treated differently with different meds because of that. People who are involved in work or industry that have a lot of fumes and dust, that can often translate to patient with COPD later in life, as well.

How do you treat COPD? Number one is did the patient smoke? Are they still smoking? If that’s the case, we need to get them some smoking cessation counseling. Pulmonary Rehab. We work wth respiratory therapist who will train you to do some exercise that will help build up your capacity of better breathing. Medications are also important for patients. And then finally, patients may be on oxygen.

Can you cure COPD? You can certainly recognize the diagnosis, and then treat the disease. You cannot cure it.

For more information:

National Heart, Blood & Lung Institute 

COPD: Life Expectancy, Symptoms and Treatment

Hospital Readmissions Program

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.