House Calls: Could you be at risk of COPD?

Written by Sandra Howerton April 23, 2012 05:03 pm

House Calls runs every two weeks. Today’s column is written by Sandra Howerton, a respiratory therapist at Sutter Coast Hospital.

What is COPD? Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a serious lung disease that robs people of their ability to breathe.

There are two types – chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both types make it harder to breathe because less air is able to flow in and out of the lungs.

Chronic bronchitis causes the lining of the lungs’ airways to become inflamed, which makes the airways tighten and narrow.  Emphysema causes the air sacs in the lungs to become damaged so old air inside the air sacs of your lungs cannot be exchanged with new air. 

Approximately 24 million Americans have some form of COPD. Half of them don’t know it and remain undiagnosed. COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., taking one life every four minutes. COPD kills more people each year than breast cancer and diabetes combined and accounts for more than $40 billion in total health care costs to our nation. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

• How do you get COPD?

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the leading cause.  Passive exposure to cigarette smoking, occupational dust and chemicals and air pollution may also cause COPD.

• What are the symptoms?

Coughing, with or without mucus/

phlegm, dyspnea (shortness of breath), wheezing and chest tightness. Breathing gradually becomes more difficult for people with COPD until they feel like they are inhaling and exhaling through a small straw.  Symptoms of COPD are sometimes confused with normal aging.

• How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis of COPD should be considered in any person who has the following:

• Symptoms of cough

• Sputum/ phlegm production or

• Dyspnea (shortness of breath) or

• History of exposure to risk factors for the disease.

Spirometry should be obtained in all persons with the following history:

• Exposure to cigarettes and/or environmental or occupational pollutants

• Family history of chronic respiratory illness

• Presence of cough, sputum production or dyspnea (shortness of breath)

• What is spirometry?

It measures airflow. By measuring how much air you exhale, and how quickly, it can evaluate a broad range of lung diseases. In a spirometry test, while you are sitting, you breathe into a mouthpiece that is connected to an instrument called a spirometer. The spirometer records the amount and the rate of air that you breathe in and out over a period of time.

• What can I do now if I think I might be at risk?

The Sutter Coast Hospital Respiratory Department will be conducting DRIVE4COPD at the Health Faire on June 9.  The Respiratory Department invites you to visit its booth at the Health Faire and fill out a survey which will pre-screen you for COPD.  Or you can see your personal physician to ask about screening for COPD through spirometry.

The Respiratory Department also performs spirometry tests for patients at risk for COPD and other lung diseases.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it