The American Lung Association reports chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) claims nearly 135,000 American lives annually, making it the third deadliest disease after heart disease and cancer.
COPD, characterized by shortness of breath, chronic cough, and chronic mucus production, is not curable, nor can you reverse lung damage linked to COPD. You can, however, treat and maintain the disease with these proactive steps.
“In the short term, medications help decrease COPD exacerbations. But there are long-term benefits, too,” explains Keith Goulet, DO, a critical care medicine and pulmonary disease specialist at Anne Arundel Medical Center. “Exacerbations increase lung damage. So every flare-up you prevent today slows down future disease progression.”
Consult a Pulmonologist
Typically, your primary care physician is the first doctor to assess symptoms associated with COPD. The next step is to consult a pulmonologist, a physician with advanced knowledge and skill in the diagnosis and treatment of lung conditions and diseases. “You need to make sure your COPD diagnosis is accurate and you’re on the right medications,” says Dr. Goulet. “Ask your doctor questions if you have them. COPD can be a scary disease because it’s not curable. But it is treatable. Learning everything you can about the disease often calms those fears, and ultimately improves your quality of life.”
Smoking is not the sole cause of COPD, but it is estimated that 80 percent of those diagnosed with COPD are either current or past smokers. Specific to COPD, cigarette smoke contains toxins that irritate the lungs and trigger symptoms.
For COPD patients, every breath taxes the breathing muscles. To keep these muscles in good shape, it’s essential that you stay active to the best of your ability and always follow your doctor’s recommendations.