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COPD: What You Need to Know

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is on the rise worldwide. The COPD Foundation estimates that 15 million adults in the United States are living with COPD and another 15 million have it but have not been diagnosed yet. Put another way, 6.3% of the U.S. population has COPD.

November is National COPD Awareness Month and in the spirit of raising awareness to help those at risk or people helping a loved one with the disease, we’re sharing the latest data on COPD with you here.

What It Is

COPD is not a single illness, but a term that covers several progressive lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma. The defining characteristic of COPD is increased breathlessness. Coughing and increasing breathlessness are not a normal part of aging, but many people ignore early symptoms of COPD thinking it’s typical.

If you think you might be at risk due to a history of smoking, a working environment that exposed you to fumes, chemicals and dust, or are genetically predisposed, be aware of the signs and symptoms of COPD:

  • increased breathlessness
  • tightness in the chest
  • frequent coughing
  • wheezing

A diagnosis of COPD can be a relief to some and lead to anxiety and depression to others. Talk to your health care provider to learn as much as you can about support, rehabilitation, and more.

Living with COPD

COPD can severely impact the ability to live an independent life. A caregiver—professional or just a dependable family member—can be there to look out for worsening symptoms and to help avoid a hospital stay or readmission.

For individuals and their caregivers who are affected by COPD, this disease can reduce independence.

The COPD Foundation offers a checklist for caregivers or family members to know when to call the doctor. If the person shows signs of the following signs that COPD is exacerbated, a doctor should be consulted:

  • Increased difficulty breathing during normal activities
  • Increased coughing or a great deal of chest pain when coughing
  • Increased mucus production
  • Swollen hands or feet
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Bloody mucus or mucus that is green or yellow
  • Shortness of breath that wakes the patient in the night

As COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., everyone is encouraged to learn more about preventing this illness and managing the symptoms for those living with it.

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