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Catching Your Breath with COPD Awareness


A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that while three of the leading causes of death were on the decline, only chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increased. These new findings mean that COPD moved into the number three spot for leading causes of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Approximately 24 million Americans currently have COPD, but only half of those people have been diagnosed. COPD, more commonly known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, kills more than 120,000 Americans each year. This equates to one death every four minutes.

Respiratory therapists like myself are working hard to reverse this trend. The first step in this effort is increased awareness and detection of COPD, beginning with recognition of COPD symptoms.

Extreme and continuous shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing are the most common symptoms. Listed below are additional symptoms that may indicate COPD.

  • A cough that regularly produces large amounts of mucus
  • Shortness of breath when performing activities that previously did not cause this reaction
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Lips or fingernails turn blue or gray (This is a sign of a low oxygen level in the blood)
  • Rapid heartbeat when not performing physical activity

Some symptoms of COPD are similar to those of other diseases and conditions, so a visit to a physician is key ifsymptoms are present for an extended period of time. COPD can be diagnosed easily with a tool called a spirometer.

Though the increase in COPD is disheartening, the good news is that, once diagnosed, the disease is always treatable.

There are a variety of ways to control COPD including oral medications, inhalers, nebulizers and supplemental oxygen therapy. The treatment method depends on the severity of the condition and the most common treatment for severe COPD is oxygen therapy. In fact, two million of those diagnosed with COPD are prescribed supplemental oxygen therapy to manage the condition.

When oxygen therapy is mentioned, many people think of large oxygen tanks that often keep the COPD sufferer home bound. The good news is that technology has allowed for the creation of portable oxygen concentrators. There are several oxygen concentrators that are even FAA approved for in-flight use. The smallest and most light-weight portable oxygen concentrator is theLifeChoice (, which was recently released nationwide.

The most important step to take when faced with signs or symptoms of COPD is an immediate visit to the doctor. Like any disease, theearlier it is diagnosed, the better in terms of treatment options and disease progression.

Written by Larry Morrison is a Certified Respiratory Therapist with Northland Home Care in Flagstaff, AZ.


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