A MATTER OF LIFE AND BREATH
It’s more common than breast cancer, prostate cancer and heart attacks, but most people are not aware of it. Over the years it can slowly steal your ability to breathe, and in some cases it may make you dependent on an oxygen tank. We’re talking about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder or COPD for short.
COPD is the result of damage to the lung, usually caused by smoking in the Western world. In the developing world cooking fires represent a common cause as well.
COPD It is an umbrella term for two disease processes:
1. Emphysema – where the structure of the lung is broken down causing the airways to collapse and block airflow
2. Chronic Bronchitis – where the damage to the lung leads to narrowing of airways and mucus production, which blocks the airways
People with COPD usually have some combination of these two disease processes and may find it difficult to breathe from time to time.
New research published in the journal The Lancet is saying that COPD may affect more than 1 in 4 adults between the ages of 35 and 80 years old (in the developed, multicultural Canadian province of Ontario). This is a higher incidence rate than for breast or prostate cancer, heart attack and heart failure in that age group.
The study also points out that the problem is that despite how common it is, there is a lack of awareness about COPD and therefore there is not enough done to treat or prevent the disease. COPD can be managed most effectively if it is diagnosed as early as possible. There is no cure for COPD, but the best approach is to stop the damage to the lungs and to maximize your remaining lung function. For most people, stopping the damage to the lungs associated with COPD means quitting smoking and staying away from other airborne irritants like wood fire smoke or industrial chemicals.
Perhaps the most troubling part of the Lancet article is that researchers suggest that there is a prevailing attitude that because of its association with smoking, people with COPD have brought the disease on themselves. This is an unfair assertion - quitting smoking can be extremely difficult because many people are profoundly addicted to nicotine. Other people find it difficult to stop smoking because it is such an ingrained habit or method of coping with stress or emotions. Your doctor can help make it easier for you to quit – to find out how, see:
Anyone 40 years of age or older who ever smoked in their lifetime should consider getting screened for COPD with spirometry testing, which can be arranged by your family doctor.
To learn how spirometry testing works, see: http://bit.ly/oKrnry
(photo of smoker’s lung with emphysema and carbon deposits courtesy of CDC)