Huffing and Puffing: Blow COPD Down

A grandfather is getting ready to blow out the candles on his birthday cake. Do you have trouble breathing when walking up a flight of stairs? Are you out of breath from a trip to the mailbox?

People may believe their breathing difficulty is from age or being out of shape. People also think shortness of breath is normal as you get older.  It’s not. You may have COPD.

COPD is an acronym for “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD is not just one disease, it’s a group of diseases making it hard to breathe. COPD diseases include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. There is no cure for COPD.

A staggering fact from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that more than 50 percent of adults with breathing difficulties were unaware they had COPD. The CDC also reports that women are more likely to have COPD than men.  COPD can also lead to other conditions including heart disease.

Symptoms and Causes 

COPD starts slowly. Symptoms may be mild. As it gets worse, symptoms become more severe. They include:

  • Coughing that produces mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially during movement or activity
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss

COPD can be caused by:

  • Tobacco use
  • Exposure to air pollutants at home and work such as secondhand smoke, some heating fuels, dusts, gases, fumes, chemicals
  • Genetic disorders

Detection and Treatments

Early detection is important to prevent developing COPD. Doctors use lung function tests, imaging tests and blood tests to diagnose COPD.

Although there is no cure, COPD treatment can decrease the frequency and severity of symptoms and increase your ability to do physical activity. For those who smoke, the most important treatment is to stop. Removing air pollutants from the home and workplace is also important.

Treatments can include:

  • Medications
  • An individualized treatment plan of pulmonary rehabilitation
  • New breathing strategies
  • Energy-conserving techniques
  • Exercise training
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Supplemental oxygen

Lung infections can also cause serious problems for people with COPD. It’s important for people with COPD to receive the flu vaccine and other immunizations.

Our Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs are medically prescribed programs focusing on improving your overall respiratory health. The programs consist of assessments, education classes, breathing retraining, graded exercise programs and dietary counseling. To learn more about BayCare's pulmonary and respiratory services call, 1-800-BayCare (1-800-229-2273).