Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC
Chair of the Board of Directors, US COPD Coalition
Keith Siegel, MBA, RRT, CPFT, FAARC
Executive Director, US COPD Coalition
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death among chronic diseases in the United States, with over 165,000 people dying of COPD each year. COPD is also the third leading cause of hospital admissions, at a cost of $52 billion per year.
COPD is not a single disease. COPD is a term that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, and chronic coughing. Left untreated, symptoms worsen over time.
While smoking is a major cause of COPD, it is important to realize that 25 percent of people with COPD never smoked. Other factors known to cause COPD include occupational and environmental exposures. There is also a genetic form of COPD called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.
It is estimated that approximately 30 million people in the United States have COPD, but only 16 million have been diagnosed. That leaves 14 million people undiagnosed and untreated. Many who have COPD think they are just out of shape or getting older, since its symptoms manifest mostly in middle age. They don’t mention their symptoms to their doctors and remain undiagnosed and untreated. That’s a huge mistake — there is a simple, painless breathing test, called spirometry, that can be done in a doctor’s office to help with the diagnosis.
COPD is not curable, but it is treatable. There are many effective medications and interventions for COPD. These interventions can slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life. Early diagnosis is essential so patients can begin receiving the correct treatment.
With early diagnosis and treatment, people with COPD can live a more active life. If you have symptoms, tell your doctor. If you know of someone with symptoms, get them to tell their doctor. If you can slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life, why not do it?