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The COPD Crisis
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. It can include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and sometimes asthma. Though there is no cure, COPD can be managed to slow the progression of the disease. However, the disease destroys the lungs and is often responsible for the end of life. Nearly 12 million people have been diagnosed with the disease and another 12 million may have it and not even know they are afflicted. The disease is the third leading cause of death and the mortality rate is expected to rise over the next decade.
The lung damage and/or mucus build up makes it hard for oxygen to get to the lungs and be absorbed for distribution to the rest of the body. This can make patients feel short of breath and tired. The most common cause of COPD is smoking, and exposure to secondhand smoke is also a major factor. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants such as pollution, chemical fumes or dust, may also lead to the disease. A rare genetic condition is also known to cause the disease.
In the early stages of COPD, there may be no noticeable symptoms, but COPD worsens over time. Some people can confuse these symptoms as the natural progression of the body as it ages. Everyone has different signs and symptoms, but common symptoms include: (a) shortness of breath, (b) chronic cough with or without mucus, (c) wheezing and (d) chest tightness.
COPD is diagnosed with a simple spirometry test, which shows how much air an individual’s lungs hold and how quickly each person can exhale. To be tested, health care providers will ask patients to breathe into a spirometer as hard and as long as they can. Spirometry should be a routine procedure for patients at risk, but unfortunately this diagnostic tool remains under-utilized.
Despite being the nation’s third leading cause of death, with nearly 140,000 lives lost annually, COPD funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is only $108 million per year.