Leaving You Breathless: Smoking and COPD
We all know about the link between smoking and cancer, but how much do you know about COPD? Learn one more reason why you shouldn't smoke.

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Picture of man smoking Leaving You Breathless: Smoking and COPD

If you are young and you smoke, here's another reason to quit. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD, a respiratory disease that could leave you breathless later in life. Symptoms of COPD include chronic cough, chest tightness, wheezing, and an increase in the production of mucus.

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In both conditions, the airways that carry air in and out of your lungs become blocked, making it hard to breathe. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of COPD and lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking.

COPD can be diagnosed by a series of simple breathing tests that measure lung volumes and function.

In addition to smoking, other causes of COPD include heredity, exposure to secondhand smoke, occupational exposures, and air pollution.

Problems linked to COPD
COPD is the nation's fourth-leading cause of death. With rising numbers of women smoking in past years, they have now surpassed men in the number of deaths from COPD.

According to an American Lung Association survey:

  • More than half of those with COPD questioned said that their conditions limited their ability to work.
  • More than half felt their COPD interfered with normal physical activity, household chores, sleeping, and social activities.

Treatment for COPD
One of the best things you can do for your COPD is to stop smoking. This often relieves many of the symptoms of COPD and slows its progression. It also raises your life expectancy and lowers your risks for lung and other cancers. If you have COPD and quit smoking, depending on your stage, your symptoms (coughing, wheezing, and production of mucus) could lessen within a few months.

Other forms of treatment include:

  • Bronchodilators. Help open narrowed airways. They are usually inhaled in spray form.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids. Help reduce inflammation in the airways.
  • Antibiotics. Given to fight bacterial infection when present.
  • Expectorants. Help loosen and expel mucous secretions from the airways.
  • Oxygen therapy. May prolong life for those with chronic respiratory failure.

Surgery
Surgical options may be offered to treat COPD when other treatments are not enough. Possible surgeries include

  • Lung volume reduction surgery to remove damaged lung tissue
  • Lung transplantation

Pulmonary rehabilitation
This type of program might help decrease symptoms and improve the quality of life. Aerobic exercise cannot reverse the damage caused by COPD. But it may help slow the decline of lung function.

COPD sufferers often have heart disease as well. Exercise as part of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation can help if done properly.

Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for a rehabilitation program.

By David Van Horn, Contributing Writer
Created on 02/22/2001
Updated on 07/14/2011
Sources:
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Lung Institute. Take the first step to breathing better. Learn more about COPD.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Data and statistics
  • American Lung Association. Understanding COPD.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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