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Making It Hard to Breathe Easy

COPD makes every breath harder to handle, but relief is available.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. Sixteen million Americans have been diagnosed with this disease and millions more suffer from it. Although there is no cure for COPD, treatments are available.

Here are some basic facts about this common disease and some ways to improve your condition if you struggle with it.

Common Symptoms

  • Frequent coughing or wheezing
  • Excess phlegm, mucus, or sputum production
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble taking a deep breath

Risk Factors

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. There are, however, several other common factors that increase the likelihood of suffering from the disease, including:

  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Breathing secondhand smoke
  • Working with chemicals, dust, and fumes
  • The genetic condition called Alpha-1 deficiency
  • A history of childhood respiratory infection

Groups Most Likely to Have COPD

While COPD was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2018, the following groups were more likely to report having it:

  • Women
  • People 65 and older
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives, and multiracial non-Hispanics
  • People who were unemployed, retired, or unable to work
  • People with less than a high school education
  • People who were divorced, widowed, or separated
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with a history of asthma

Treating COPD

Not all people with COPD have the same symptoms and treatment will vary from person to person, especially considering there is no cure for the disease. Treatment can come in the form of medicine, supplemental oxygen, surgery, and clinical trials on new medical approaches. Many COPD patients find relief through breathing exercises and changes in their diet, as well. As always, consult your physician to determine the best treatment plan for your specific condition.

Your life will change after being diagnosed with COPD and it may not be as easy to do the things you used to do before. Not only are there physical challenges, but there are emotional hurdles to get over as well. If you or a loved one have COPD, support is available. See where you can find help from others who share common experiences, get tips on paying for care and learn how you can advocate to improve the lives of others with the disease.

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