COPD Awareness Month: The More You Learn, The Better You Breathe

Jill Murphy, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Monday, November 25th, 2019
Each November, members of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) community come together to focus on increasing awareness of the respiratory condition. 1
COPD is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. This disease is progressive and incurable, but there are available treatments that can help patients manage their COPD.2
Symptoms of COPD may vary with each person, but the most common symptoms include an increased shortness of breath, frequent coughing, increased breathlessness, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. 2
Tom Corbridge, MD, a pulmonologist and intensivist at Northwestern University, has studied COPD patients for years. He highly recommended patients to get checked as early as possible for COPD, no matter how old you are, in an interview with Pharmacy Times.
“Many patients who come in were previous smokers, and develop symptoms at the age of 40,” Corbridge said. “If you are in this group of people, see a physician to get treatment that is currently available. The earlier you come in, the earlier you can receive effective treatment.”
According to Corbridge, many patients do not realize the importance of discussing lung exacerbations with a physician. Exacerbations are severe flare-ups that can cause lung damage.3 He used the term “lung attack” to emphasize its impact on the human body.
“The terms that we use to describe our symptoms do not reflect how important they are in the journey of a patient,” Corbridge said. “Calling these exacerbations an ‘attack’ would make the patient feel that this is a more serious event, since this can lead to possible mortality.”
Another important component when evaluating COPD is the patient-physician relationship. If a patient underreports their symptoms to their physician, the physician will then underrecognize where the patient is in their COPD journey.
“As a physician, make sure that you ask deep, probing questions about a patient’s symptoms, such as, ‘Are you able to walk down the street?’ or ‘Are you able to get the mail?’, Corbridge said. “These kinds of tools can help a busy physician in a clinic see where someone is in relation to their symptoms, and the risk of undertreatment can be avoided.”
COPD is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States, affecting 27 million people. Patient education can help avoid the further development of such a respiratory illness and prepare individuals for what is to come.
“Sites such as are very patient friendly, which can help patients get ready for their clinic visits and learn more about where they are in the stage of the disease,” said Corbridge. “Being as honest and open as possible with your physician can help them craft the best overall treatment and establish a great relationship for the patient.”
  1. November is national COPD Awareness Month. NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed November 19, 2019.
  2. What is COPD? COPD Foundation. Accessed November 19, 2019.
  3. Understanding COPD exacerbations. COPD step by step. Accessed November 19, 2019.

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