Aspirus Media Center

What is COPD?


Sarah Schroeder, Aspirus Respiratory Therapist

Every year, 150,000 people die from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD, in the United States. COPD affects more than 15 million adults, and many more are unaware they even have it.

This month is National COPD Awareness Month. During November people from all over the country raise awareness to those at risk for COPD, those living with COPD and the importance of early diagnosis.

COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases, asthma.

 COPD is a progressive which means it gets worse as time goes on. With COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways, making it hard to breathe.

This type of lung disease is typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter such as cigarette smoke. Most people who have COPD smoke or were previous smokers, however, up to 30 percent of people with COPD never smoked.

“COPD is a major cause of disability. Those with COPD find themselves struggling to do daily activities such as walking, cooking, or dressing themselves because they become short of breath so easily,” says Sarah Schroeder, Respiratory Therapist with Aspirus.

According to the CDC, common symptoms of COPD are an ongoing cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus, shortness of breath (especially with physical activity), wheezing or a whistling or squeaky sound when breathing, and chest tightness or heaviness.

“The most important thing someone with COPD or at risk for COPD can do is to not smoke or quit smoking if they have been a smoker,” says Schroeder. “This lifestyle change can make a drastic difference.”

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, additional things people at risk for COPD can do are:

  • Limit exposure to air pollution in the home or at work. Stay away from things that could irritate your lungs, like dust, strong fumes and cigarette smoke.
  • Visit your health care provider regularly. Make a list of your breathing symptoms and think about any activities that you can no longer do because of shortness of breath. Share this information with your provider.
  • Protect yourself from the flu and other preventable infectious diseases. It is also a good idea to get a flu shot every year. Talk to your provider about getting vaccinated against pneumococcal disease and COVID-19.

People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions. Early diagnosis is critical to help reduce lung damage and to help with those manage quality of life with COPD.


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