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20 Facts About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

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COPD is a disease that can’t be cured, but it can be treated and prevented. Being diagnosed with COPD can be life altering and requires a lot of support from family and friends. Knowing more about COPD can make it easier to cope and navigate the proper treatment options. Let’s review 20 important facts about COPD.


1. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the country

Over 3 million people die each year from COPD. The highest number of deaths is for those between the ages of 75 to 84, with 86% of deaths in those 65 years and older.


2. COPD inhibits lung function and creates airflow blockage, which further damages the lungs.

3. There are two main types of COPD

The two types of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In 2018, 9 million adults had chronic bronchitis, while 2 million adults had emphysema.


4. There is a rare genetic form of COPD. 

This genetic condition, called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, causes the lungs and other organs to have less protection from infection.


5. COPD is known to cause breathing problems, excess phlegm, and inflammation of the airways.

The most common symptoms of COPD are wheezing, frequent shortness of breath, multiple respiratory infections, fatigue, increased mucus production, and having a chronic cough.


6. Over 65 million people in the world have moderate to severe COPD.

Older patients are more at risk for comorbidities which means having more than one medical condition in addition to COPD. This can refer to a depression diagnosis, or conditions such as heart disease.


7. The most common test used to diagnose COPD is spirometry.

Spirometry measures lung function and produces a FEV1 value. This value is compared with average values from healthy people of the same age as the patient to see how severe the damage is in a patient's lungs.

Chest x-rays are also used to diagnose COPD and can also rule out other conditions such as heart disease or heart failure. 


8. COPD can be prevented in most cases by avoiding smoking and long-term exposure to second-hand smoke.

Air pollutants, and irritants such as cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, dust, and tobacco smoke are all risk factors for lung disease. The greatest cause of COPD is smoking. 85 to 90% of COPD cases are caused by smoking.


9. Women who smoke are 22 times more likely to die of COPD while men who smoke are 26 more times likely to die of COPD.

1 in 5 smokers are diagnosed with COPD. The best way to prevent COPD is by not smoking. All smokers should stop smoking in order to avoid any excess damage to the lungs. It can be hard to quit smoking, but strongly encouraged.

10. COPD is more common amongst women. 

Women are more susceptible to lung damage from smoke and pollutants and are often misdiagnosed because it is assumed that COPD is found mostly in men. Women made up for 35.8% of COPD deaths in 2018.


11. COPD significantly lowers the quality of life for patients.

With significantly less airflow to the lungs, it is harder for patients to maintain the life they once had.

In 2018, 50.6% of those with COPD reported a decrease in their quality of life. COPD patients are often forced to make lifestyle changes such as no longer smoking, maintaining physical activity, and losing weight.


12. It is important for COPD patients to stay up to date with the influenza, t-dap, and pneumococcal vaccines to avoid infection. 

In 2018, 58% of COPD patients received their pneumonia vaccine while more than 50% of patients received their influenza vaccine.


13. Pulmonary rehabilitation is offered through certain healthcare providers and can help to improve the quality of life for those with COPD.

This is a supervised medical program that provides exercise and breathing tests to regain strength. It also provides education and counseling for emotional support.


14. 42.8% of COPD patients reported psychological distress in 2018.

15. There are three common surgeries for COPD treatments; lung volume reductions, bullectomy, and lung transplants

Lung transplants are often used as a last resort for those whose lungs are severely damaged.


16. Oxygen therapy is a COPD treatment.

Oxygen tanks are given to patients to make-up for the lack of oxygen that goes to their lungs. There are different sizes, including portable tanks. These help patients to breathe better and improve their quality of life.


17. Bronchodilators are another form of treatment.

These are inhalers that release medicine to help relax and open up the airways in the lungs. There are both short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators. 

Short-acting bronchodilators work fast, last 4 to 6 hours, and are used for quick relief of acute symptoms. Long-acting bronchodilators take a little longer to work, last longer, and are used to control symptoms. 


18. Inhaled steroids also help with COPD.

These are also inhalers and can help patients who have frequent exacerbations. Combination inhalers are also sometimes used. These are a combination of the medicine from a bronchodilator and steroids.


19. 49 billion dollars was spent on treatments for COPD patients in 2020 compared to 32 billion in 2010.

20. COPD patients should avoid exacerbations and flare-ups.

This means avoiding anything that might irritate the lungs such as air-pollutants or second-hand smoke. Exacerbations can also be caused by infection and can be prevented by staying up to date with vaccines.


More information can be found from the American Lung Association, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)

Suraya Hammoudeh, PharmD

A clinical Pharmacist with a decade of experience working with health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

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