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Get Tested for COPD: Your Lungs Will Thank You

If you’re often short of breath during everyday activities, your chest feels tight, or you cough a lot, you may be chalking it up to getting older, having allergies, or being a smoker (now or in the past). Fortunately, there’s a way to know whether something more may be at play with your lungs. 

James-P-Kiley

James P. Kiley Ph.D.

Director, Division of Lung Diseases, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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Consider getting a lung function test to find out if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Knowing the cause of your cough and breathing problems will not only help you manage your symptoms, it’ll help you feel better, too.  

COPD includes two main conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It’s usually caused by cigarette smoking or breathing in other irritants, such as dusts or chemical fumes. In a small fraction of people, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency plays a role in causing COPD. More than 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD. There are millions more have it but don’t know it, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)


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COPD doesn’t have a cure at the moment, but if you seek advice from a health care provider and get diagnosed early, you can slow down this progressive disease. During your appointment, your provider will talk to you about your symptoms and your medical history and listen to your breathing. He or she may recommend one or more lung function tests to help diagnose COPD.

Ask for a lung function test if you:

  • Are over age 40
  • Are or were a smoker
  • Feel out of breath often
  • Bring up a lot of mucus when you cough
  • Have already been diagnosed with a lung disease
  • Have AAT deficiency
  • Are concerned about your lung health

Another factor to consider when assessing your lung health is COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Unlike COPD, COVID-19 causes abrupt coughing and trouble breathing, so your health care provider may want to test you for it.

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If you have a chronic lung disease, such as COPD, and get infected with COVID-19, you are at higher risk of getting very sick. COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease. For more information on COVID-19, visit CDC.gov.

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