People with COPD may not know they have it until their disease is in its “moderate” stage, meaning that they are experiencing frequent shortness of breath, coughing and heavier-than-normal mucus. Misdiagnosis can occur because the symptoms of COPD mimic other respiratory conditions, such as asthma. In 2011, chronic lower respiratory diseases — primarily COPD — was the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While an estimated 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, according to 2011 statistics from the CDC, the number of sufferers may be higher. More than 50 percent of adults with low pulmonary function were not aware that they had COPD, the CDC found.
Treating COPD isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Each patient will receive a treatment plan customized for his or her specific needs. Treatment may include medication to help alleviate symptoms, supplemental oxygen and pulmonary rehabilitation. Some lifestyle changes may also be recommended, such as exercise, breathing techniques and avoidance of air pollutants at home and at work. For smokers, the most important part of treatment will be quitting the use of tobacco.
Because respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, can cause serious complications in people with COPD, those people should get a yearly flu vaccination. A pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended.