THE BLOG
11/19/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

COPD: The Breath Thief

Did you know the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? If this surprises you, then that makes November -- National COPD Awareness Month -- more important than ever.

Understanding COPD
COPD is a lung disease that, over time, makes it hard to breathe and can eventually lead to death. You may have heard of chronic bronchitis or emphysema, but since many people have features of both conditions, health professionals prefer to call the disease COPD. More than 11 million American adults have been diagnosed with COPD, and it's estimated that just as many may be suffering from the disease, but have not yet been diagnosed or treated. COPD accounts for more than 134,000 deaths each year in the U.S. -- the third leading cause of death. Tragically, the number of people dying from COPD is growing.

The primary cause of COPD is smoking, but it can be caused by other factors, including exposure to air pollution. And for a small number of people, COPD is caused by a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. At this time there is no cure for COPD, but the good news is that COPD is mostly preventable and the symptoms are treatable. COPD is often not found until the disease is very advanced because people do not know the early warning signs. However, COPD can be found early and there is much that can be done to treat the symptoms and help manage the disease.

Once Diagnosed:
  • If you're a smoker -- quit now. Stopping smoking has a more positive impact on the disease than any other type of treatment.
  • Take any medicine you're prescribed exactly as instructed. If you are having problems, talk with your health care provider about possible solutions.
  • Get your yearly influenza vaccine and discuss the pneumonia vaccine with your physician
  • Get active! Keep as physically fit as possible and discuss pulmonary rehabilitation with your physician. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.
  • Educate yourself. The Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand your lungs and COPD.
  • Get Support. Controlling COPD is easier as a team effort. Ask for and get support from those who love you. The American Lung Association offers a number of COPD support resources, including our Better Breathers Clubs and the online support community Lung Connection. And mobilize your local support system using My Fighting for Air Community, a free caregiving coordination program for help with chores or transportation, which can help ease your stress.

COPD may be a major and growing health threat, but it can be prevented and the symptoms treated. If you want more information about COPD, check out our web resources or call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine (1-800-LUNGUSA).

Get Involved
Join with the American Lung Association to urge the U.S Food and Drug Administration to make finding better treatments and cures for COPD a priority. The FDA has proposed a list of priority conditions. Because of the enormous burden of COPD, it clearly should be on the top of the FDA's priority list for action.