COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is the fourth-ranked cause of death in the USA and the second leading cause of disability. November is COPD Awareness Month, and we talked to SIMEDHealth Pulmonologist Jorge Camacho, MD all about this disease. 

What is COPD, and what are its symptoms?

Dr. Camacho says, "COPD is a group of chronic obstructive lung diseases. These are severe lung diseases that, over time, make it harder to breathe." Like other illnesses, COPD is an umbrella term referring to a group of lung diseases like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma. The typical symptom throughout the different diseases is breathlessness. Other symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. 


What causes this disease?

The three leading causes of COPD are smoking or second-hand smoke, exposure to work environment chemicals and fumes, and genetics. Dr. Camcho states, "Smoking is the number one cause, but it is also important to note than one in 6 people with COPD never smoked." Environmental exposure to things that can irritate the lungs include ammonia, asbestos, and carbon monoxide. It is essential to wear protective respirator masks when around harmful chemicals. 

There is a genetic disorder called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency that is known to cause COPD. This genetic deficiency can be discovered with a simple blood test, and diagnosed patients can begin treatment to slow the progression of this disease. 


What is a spirometry test, and how does it relate to this disease?

"Spirometry is a simple breathing test that can detect this disease before the symptoms become severe.", Dr. Camacho explains, "this test measures how fast air can be blown out of the lungs. It is quick, noninvasive, and does not require special preparation. Based on this test, a doctor can tell if it is present and, if so, how severe it is."


Does everyone need to get tested for COPD?

"Everyone does not necessarily need to get tested," explains Dr. Camacho, "but it will be valuable in persons that exhibit symptoms." According to the COPD Foundation, anyone with the following should get tested: a history of smoking, long term exposure to air pollutants, chronic coughing with or without mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath that is progressively getting worse, and difficulty keeping up with people their age. Twelve million people have COPD, and another twelve million may have it but do not know it, so getting tested is essential.


Is COPD curable? What is the treatment process?

There are treatments and strategies available that can help patients live comfortably, but there is no longterm cure.

Several strategies can be implemented to help the patient. Dr. Camacho reports, "Lifestyle changes, especially smoking cessation, and there are medications to help open the airways called bronchodilators. These are both excellent options."

In particular patients, a benefit can be seen with corticosteroid medications to help reduce airway inflammation. Pulmonary rehabilitation with physical activity training is another treatment option. For extreme cases, in the right candidates, a lung transplant is an option.


Do you have more questions about COPD and your risk of developing it? Click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Camacho or one of our other Pulmonologists at SIMEDHealth.