My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with emphysema, one type of COPD, and passed away when I was in high school. She was a heavy smoker, and had complications from not only emphysema, but also pancreatic cancer, also likely caused by smoking. In fact, my favorite picture of us together is one where she is holding me, as a toddler, on her lap: beer in one hand and cigarette in the other! I have so many good memories of her, and unfortunately, also have memories of her suffering through a very painful disease. I remember she used to have my sister and I pound on her back, to help loosen the phlegm and help her breath. Her untimely death was devastating to my mother, who had lost her father to alcoholism when she was only 18.
I did not realize how prevalent COPD is…did you know that it is the fourth leading cause of death in the US and throughout the world?! The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) provides a quick, easy-to-understand tutorial online about COPD: (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Dise...)
According to the NHLBI, COPD is lung disease in which the lungs are damaged and airways are partially obstructed, all making it hard to breathe. There is no way to reverse this damage, but early detection is the best form of protection (and quitting smoking, of course!).
A November 29, 2007 article in the New York Times discussed COPD (“Certain Symptoms Should Raise Red Flags for Doctors”), encouraging readers who are experiencing shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, congestion or clogging of airways with mucus to not assume these are symptoms of a cold, and to bring them to the attention of your doctor. (www.nytimes.com)
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, a physician quoted in the article suggests telling your doctor the answer to this question (if s/he does not ask): “How is your breathing compared to six months or a year ago? Can you exercise and function the way you did in the past?”
There are new guidelines for testing, and I’m happy to hear that there are new standards of care for COPD, as it is not a disease that is discussed often enough. I’m sure my grandmother could have benefited from better early detection and lifestyle changes.