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COPD Awareness
Amy Pianalto, James Kiley

Many of us expect to slow down as we age. We aren't surprised to become short of breath when doing a little yard work, or washing the car. We think it's normal to feel this way when we're past a certain age. Right?

Wrong! Feeling short of breath is not normal at any age. Slowing down or stopping an activity because you can't catch your breath is one sign of COPD, c hronic o bstructive p ulmonary d isease. In COPD the airways of the lungs are narrowed, and this makes it hard to get air out and causes an out of breath' feeling. Other symptoms of COPD can include frequent coughing, excess mucus, and sometimes wheezing. Some patients with COPD also show loss of lung tissue on chest x-ray a condition called emphysema.

Most people with COPD are over age 40 and have a history of smoking or long term exposure to fumes or dust in the environment. But not everyone with COPD can identify such exposures. Some people appear to have a genetic predisposition to COPD.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, there is hope. Many treatments are available to alleviate symptoms, improve your breathing, and get you back to doing more of what you used to do. The first step is getting an accurate diagnosis.

If you think you may have COPD, talk to your doctor about a simple breathing test called spirometry. This test can be done right in a doctor's office. You simply breathe as hard as you can into a tube connected to machine which measures your lung function. Using this test, your doctor can determine if you have COPD and can decide on the best course of treatment.

If you find out you have COPD, you're not alone. This disease affects 1 in 4 older Americans, and unfortunately, claims 120,000 lives each year. It has become the fourth leading cause of death.

You can find out more about COPD at www.learnaboutcopd.org . This educational web site is part of a COPD awareness campaign from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the American Lung Association and other organizations.

If you're slowing down due to shortness of breath, talk to your doctor. Get a simple breathing test. Learn more breathe better!

This article was published in the Summer 2007 issue of the ALA Lung Health Magazine.

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