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Lung disease causes death, disability

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death and the second leading cause of disability in America today, yet many people have no idea what it is. Even those who already have COPD may fail to recognize its symptoms and get properly diagnosed and treated.

COPD is a serious lung disease that, over time, makes it hard to breathe. You may have heard COPD called other names, like emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

In people who have COPD, the airways – tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs – are blocked, making it hard to get air in and out.

The number of people with COPD is increasing. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it.

Almost 187,000 Kentucky adults have COPD. Their number would fill Lexington’s Rupp Arena eight times, or Louisville’s Freedom Hall nearly 10 times.

COPD’s most common symptoms are chronic cough and persistent shortage of breath that worsens with exercise. It typically shows up most among people over age 40, and those regularly exposed to tobacco smoke and workplace dust and fumes.

The single greatest risk factor for developing COPD is cigarette smoking.

The American Lung Association says there is a quick, easy lung health test anyone can take who has COPD or is at risk of getting it. It is important to talk with your doctor about COPD and getting the test, which is called spirometry and involves simply breathing into a device that measures your lung power.

The Lung Association has four tips for avoiding or coping with COPD.

• Quit smoking. If you smoke, the Lung Association has a web site at www.ffsonling.org and phone counseling at 1-800-LUNGUSA that can help you quit. Many Kentucky health departments offer non-smoking classes, and your doctor can advise you on medical aids to make quitting easier.

• Avoid pollutants. Try to stay away from dust, strong fumes and other hazards that can irritate your lungs. Stay indoors when outdoor air quality is bad. Avoid places where you will be exposed to secondhand smoke.

• See your doctor. Make a list of your breathing symptoms and think about any activities you can no longer do without getting short of breath. Be sure to bring a list of all the medicines you take to each doctor’s visit.

• Protect yourself against the flu. It’s a good idea to get a flu shot every year. The flu can cause serious problems for people with COPD. You should also think about a pneumonia vaccine shot. Do you best to avoid crowds during flu season.

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