Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease of the lungs that makes it very difficult to breathe and gets worse over time. Newly released statistics show that COPD now affects more women than men in the United States. Tragically, it also kills more women than men in the U.S.; 53 percent of women with COPD die from it. It’s estimated that 12 million Americans don’t know they have the disease.
In the U.S., 14.7 million people have COPD and 58 percent of them are women. Traditionally COPD was considered a man’s disease but that is no longer true.
- 8 percent of women have COPD
- 6 percent of men have COPD
The presumption that COPD is a “man’s disease” is exacerbated by the fact that some medical textbooks still used in medical schools illustrate the disease with images of men. This bias is causing a delay in diagnosis and treatment for women which can allow the disease to progress and worsen. As a result, by the time some women are diagnosed with COPD they are in the advanced stages of the disease.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of COPD can help you recognize them in a loved one. The earlier you can describe symptoms to his or her physician, the earlier diagnosis can take place and treatment can begin.
Signs & Symptoms of COPD
Symptoms of COPD include:
- Chronic cough that may produce mucus
- Tightening of the chest
- Shortness of breath
COPD includes two types of lung problems; chronic bronchitis and emphysema. copd.com describes them follows:
- “Chronic bronchitis” is increased cough and mucus production caused by inflammation of the airways. Bronchitis is considered chronic (or long-term) if a person coughs and produces excess mucus most days during three months in a year, for two years in a row.
- “Emphysema” is associated with damage of the air sacs and/or collapse of the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs.
How is COPD diagnosed?
Usually the disease is diagnosed after a physician takes a lung measurement using a device caused a spirometer. The patient blows into a large tube that measures the amount of air held, and exhaled by, the lungs. Using a spirometer, the physician may be able to diagnose COPD even before symptoms begin to occur frequently. X-rays may also be taken to give the physician a view of the lungs.
How is COPD treated?
There are several different treatments for COPD. The physician will develop a treatment plan that is individualized to each patient. They are prescribed based on the stage of COPD, the individual’s overall health, and their lifestyle habits. Treatments may include:
- Stop smoking if the patient is a smoker
- Rescue inhalers that open up the airways when symptoms get worse, called an “exacerbation”
- Daily oxygen therapy
- Pulmonary rehabilitation; like physical therapy for the lungs that includes breathing exercises
Lifestyle changes are important to manage COPD.
- Flu shots and other preventative health measures are important to safeguard overall health. Contracting a respiratory illness like the flu or a cold can make breathing even more difficult.
- Good nutrition is important. The healthier food one eats, the stronger and healthier one’s body becomes. This gives the body more energy for many things including breathing.
- Exercise helps with COPD. Developed in conjunction with a physician, an exercise plan can help to keep the lungs as strong as they can be.
- Sleep is important. Getting enough sleep keeps the body rested and helps it to breathe. Those with COPD should be aware if they have trouble sleeping or wake up coughing. A sleep study may help to determine if sleep apnea is present and needs to be treated.
Once COPD is diagnosed a good treatment plan can help to manage it day-to-day. If you suspect that your loved one is showing the signs and symptoms of COPD, talk to his or her doctor. You can make sure that testing is conducted to determine, as early as possible, if they have the disease. Early detection and diagnosis leads to early treatment. That will guarantee that your loved one lives as healthy and productive a lifestyle as possible.
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