Most people immediately think of lifelong smokers when they hear the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — and they’re not wrong. Over 85% of folks with this debilitating disease got it from smoking.
But if your knowledge of COPD starts and ends with this factoid, you’re missing crucial information that could impact your life, even if you don’t smoke.
That’s why board-certified Dr. James Lee and our team here at Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care want to educate our patients throughout Woodstock, Georgia, about the misunderstood and lesser-known facts regarding COPD.
Before we dive into the lesser-known details about COPD, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the basic facts. The best way to do that is to define the letters in the name.
C: The disease is chronic because it’s ongoing and incurable. Those who have COPD live with it daily for the rest of their lives. It’s also progressive, meaning it worsens over time.
O: The “O” stands for obstructive, which refers to the narrowing of your airways in your lungs. COPD inflames and thickens these tissues and destroys the walls between your air sacs. Increased mucus and phlegm also get in the way of airflow.
P: Pulmonary is the medical term for conditions involving your lungs.
D: Disease means that you have a body part or system that is dysfunctional, has undergone anatomical changes, and/or is causing symptoms. That loose definition may not apply to all disease types, but it holds true for COPD.
What you may not know about COPD
We’ve found that most people can identify at least a few of the most common COPD symptoms:
- Persistent coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty taking deep breaths
However, there seems to be some confusion surrounding the causes, risk factors, and complications of COPD.
There are different types of COPD
COPD is an umbrella term for a group of respiratory diseases. Two of the most familiar COPD conditions are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Although they both involve lung damage, the underlying causes and the specific symptoms differ.
Nonsmokers can get COPD
This fact debunks the most widespread myth — that COPD is a smoker’s disease. While most cases stem from smoking, about 15% of those diagnosed have never smoked.
COPD affects men and women differently
COPD kills more women than men, and researchers are still investigating why. It could be because:
- There are more female smokers
- Secondhand smoke affects women differently than men
- COPD causes different symptoms in women (more depression, less sleep, more anxiety)
- Women develop COPD earlier in life
- Women’s lungs are smaller than men’s
- It takes less exposure to cigarette smoke to affect a woman’s lungs
Dr. Lee takes these factors seriously and monitors our at-risk female patients carefully.
Cigarette smoke isn’t the only COPD culprit
COPD develops when chemicals irritate your lungs, and cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke) is certainly the most prevalent type. But many other environmental substances can damage your lungs, too.
The most basic is general air pollution, but you can also develop COPD if you breathe in dust, industrial chemicals, gaseous fumes, coal or wood smoke, and the like.
Sick kids can get COPD as adults
Adults who had multiple respiratory infections as children are at a higher risk of developing COPD. Likewise, kids with asthma or underdeveloped lungs are more vulnerable to COPD in later years.
COPD affects millions
Since cigarette smoking has fallen out of vogue, it’s easy to think that COPD cases would decline, too, but the numbers are shocking.
- 5% of Americans (over 16 million people) have been diagnosed with COPD
- COPD is the world’s third-leading cause of death
- COPD killed 148,512 people in 2020
Unfortunately, after researching lung impairment that is consistent with COPD, experts estimate that as many as 18 million Americans with COPD have gone undiagnosed.
The good news about COPD
COPD may be chronic and incurable, but it’s also treatable. As part of our family medicine service, Dr. Lee diagnoses COPD and helps you manage the disease long term.
Your treatment depends on the severity of your condition and may include medication, pulmonary rehabilitation, lung treatments, and supplemental oxygen.
If you have a chronic cough, shortness of breath, or other COPD symptoms, don’t ignore them. Dr. Lee can get you started on a treatment plan that eases your breathing and allows you to stay active.
To schedule an appointment, call Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care at 770-927-7857 or book online.