COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a serious lung disease, is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. An American dies every 4.5 minutes from COPD. While there are 12 million people with a diagnosis of COPD, there may be another 12 million who have it and don't know it.
Despite these alarming numbers, relatively few Americans have heard of COPD. As a result, those at risk are not aware of the symptoms and health care professionals are not always on the lookout for the early symptoms and warning signs.
COPD occurs when the tubes that allow the air to get in and out of the lungs are partially blocked, making it difficult to breathe and leaving patients feeling short of breath. Anyone over the age of 40 who smokes or has smoked is at risk for developing COPD. People who have had long-term exposure to things that irritate the lungs, such as chemicals, dust, or fumes in the workplace; secondhand smoke or other pollutants; and people with certain genetic conditions are also at risk.
Diagnosing COPD involves a simple breathing test called spirometry that can be done in the doctor's office. Newer treatments for COPD are helping people live longer, more active lives.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in collaboration with more than 20 partners, has developed an education campaign, COPD Learn More Breathe Better, in order to promote greater awareness of COPD among those at risk for COPD, patients, and health care providers. We hope that our efforts and those of our partners will serve as a wake-up call for America to help those with the disease and at risk for the disease take steps to improve their own health.
Dr. Nabel is Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
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