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What You Need to Know
So, you or a loved one has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, better known as COPD. What exactly does this mean?
While tests and treatments are different for each patient, here are some common facts that will help you understand the disease better.
- COPD is lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, accounting for about 90 percent of cases. Pollution, including exposure to chemical fumes and dusts in the workplace, can increase your risk. Genetics is also a risk factor.
- As the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, COPD impacts 16 million Americans, according to The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Millions more don’t know they have this disease, which is why getting tested is so important.
- A chronic disease, COPD is an illness that may never go away. Taking action early will help you better understand and learn to manage your COPD.
- COPD is often misdiagnosed. Between 50 and 60 percent of those diagnosed with COPD do not have it. Former smokers may sometimes be told they have COPD when they actually have another lung condition. COPD cannot be diagnosed without a test called spirometry (see below). If you are being told you have COPD but have not had spirometry, ask your doctors if you can undergo this test.
- A pulmonologist specializes in diseases of the respiratory tract and will treat your COPD, as well as many other respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer.
- A person with COPD is more likely to also have heart disease and lung cancer.
To accurately diagnose COPD, doctors may perform the following tests:
Pulmonary Function Tests (Spirometry)
A type of pulmonary function test called spirometry is the most important test to diagnose COPD. It measures how much air you can breathe in and how quickly you can breathe it out. Spirometry can detect COPD before symptoms appear.
A basic picture of the lungs that can help identify other lung problems.
A more detailed scan that of the lungs that helps look for COPD and other lung diseases, including cancer.
A blood gas test is sometimes done to check for levels of gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
Given the number of patients misdiagnosed with COPD, it’s important to be evaluated by or receive a second opinion from a pulmonologist. These specialists are a critical part of successful COPD treatment plans.
- Find a lung specialist in your area.