Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, which damages the tiny air sacs in the lungs where oxygen transfers into the bloodstream, and chronic bronchitis, which leads to excess mucus and coughing. Most people with COPD develop symptoms after the age of 40 following years of exposure to lung irritation, especially smoking.
Some younger nonsmokers who develop COPD carry a genetic trait called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD).
COPD is heavily underdiagnosed. Some 12 million Americans know they have it, but there may be another 12-14 million people who are undiagnosed and not being treated.
Many of these undiagnosed cases have been told they have asthma. Some do — it’s not unusual for people to have both COPD and asthma. Others have been misdiagnosed, since symptoms of the two diseases are so similar. It’s a tricky distinction.
Asthma is an inflammation of the airways that is reversible – meaning the symptoms can be stopped or reversed – by using the right medication and / or avoiding environmental allergens and irritants that cause inflammation.
COPD causes permanent damage. You can treat the symptoms, but you can’t repair the lungs. However, The COPD Foundation (www.COPDFoundation.org) stresses COPD is almost always preventable and mostly treatable.
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