November is COPD Awareness Month. COPD, short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, describes progressive lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic lung diseases are the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only cancer and cardiovascular disease.
With chronic obstructive lung diseases, the airways deep inside the lung grow too narrow and resistant, and the breather finds it difficult to exhale.
In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath. You begin to see these symptoms in the more developed stages of the disease:
- Increased shortness of breath,
- frequent coughing,
- cough with lots of mucus,
- wheezing, and
- chest tightness.
Risk factors and common causes
COPD most often occurs in people 40 years of age and older who have a history of smoking. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Also, long-term exposure to other lung irritants — such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust — also may contribute to COPD.
Genetics can also play a role in an individual’s development of COPD — even if the person has never smoked or been exposed to strong lung irritants.
There is no cure for COPD. Medications can at best control the symptoms of COPD, not reverse or cure it. Early screening can identify COPD before major loss of lung function occurs.
If you suspect you may have COPD, you can make an appointment with a provider on our UT Physicians pulmonary medicine team by calling 1-888-4UT-DOCS.
— Staff Writer, HealthLEADER