Only a few years ago, about one third of the population had not heard of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), despite its status as one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Now, nearly a decade later, awareness of COPD is on the rise.
Because one key to managing COPD is early intervention, the more people are familiar with the symptoms, the greater the chances for earlier diagnosis and starting a treatment plan to help improve quality of life.
COPD is a serious respiratory disease that over time makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. In people with COPD, airways – tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs – become partially blocked. When severe, COPD can make the most basic of activities, such as taking a walk, doing light housework or even washing and dressing oneself, a challenge. Increased awareness of COPD is an important part of early detection and treatment efforts, as more than 15 million people are currently diagnosed with the disease in the United States and it is estimated that millions more have it without realizing.
About half of both primary care physicians and nurse practitioners cite the challenge of patients not fully disclosing symptoms as a barrier to diagnosis. Many people suffering from the signs of COPD – such as shortness of breath, chronic cough and wheezing – often chalk them up to seasonal allergies, the common cold or simply consequences of growing older. Luckily, in 2015, among those who have exhibited the symptoms, about three-quarters indicated they had spoken to their health care providers about these breathing issues, according to the results of the annual DocStyles and HealthStyles surveys of public health attitudes, knowledge, practices and lifestyle habits conducted each year by Porter Novelli. A majority of patients left these discussions with simple action items intended to help them manage their symptoms and prevent them from worsening.
One-in-seven American adults know someone suffering from the symptoms. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, encourages anyone at risk to become familiar with COPD and talk to a health care provider as soon as possible. Early detection and intervention can greatly help improve outcomes.
Despite being the third leading cause of death, COPD, also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, is by no means a death sentence. While at present there is no cure, a variety of treatment options exist that can lead to an improved quality of life. For more information and resources, visit COPD.nhlbi.nih.gov, NHLBI’s COPD Learn More Breathe Better program.