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Wed, Feb. 26

Column: Focus of November - COPD

In 2012, more than 3 million people died, worldwide, from a disease that is potentially preventable. The problem is, the disease often goes undiagnosed and untreated until it reaches a severe stage. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a type of obstructive lung disease characterized by chronically poor airflow. It typically worsens over time.

According to Jennifer Miller, a registered respiratory therapist and the respiratory wellness coordinator at Yavapai Regional Medical Center, November in the U.S. has been designated as COPD awareness month,

At local health fairs, Miller and her coworkers use a screening tool created by the American Lung Association to assess whether someone might have COPD - five simple questions that could help someone identify the problem at an earlier stage, when the disease is more treatable.

"It's like a scoring card, so people can find out if they have symptoms they need to talk to their doctor about," she said.

The risk factors are pretty straightforward, according to Miller.

"If you have a family history of COPD, if you smoke or work in an environment where there are fumes, smoke or chemicals in the air, you could be at risk," she said. "That includes living in an area where air pollution levels are often high."

Only your healthcare provider can determine if you have COPD, and only if you communicate honestly and openly about the symptoms you may be experiencing. Some of those symptoms may be:

1. Shortness of breath - Feelings of breathlessness, a sense of not getting enough air or irregular breathing. Breathing from the chest rather than the abdomen can indicate a problem as well.

2. Noisy breathing - Wheezy breath or gurgling or rattling sounds may indicate obstructed airways or fluid in the lungs.

3. Increased anxiety - Lack of adequate oxygen may cause feelings of anxiety or panic, which can cause muscles to tense, making it even harder to breathe.

4. Chronic cough - The cough may be dry, or it may bring up yellow, green, or bloody phlegm. Lying down or trying to sleep may cause the coughing to increase.

5. Changes in skin or nail color - When breathing stress is greatest, there may be noticeable changes such as a bluish tint around the lips, blue or purple nails, or sallow, grayish skin.

6. Inability to speak due to breathing issues - Someone experiencing great breathing distress may not be able to speak to let others know. Hand gestures may be the only way to tell a family member that something is wrong.

7. Early morning headaches - COPD-caused low oxygen levels can result in morning headaches, caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.

8. Swollen ankles or legs, or abdominal pain - Swelling and abdominal pain are common COPD symptoms. They are associated with heart complications or irregularities caused by damage to the lungs.

If you have questions about COPD, you can contact the respiratory wellness program at YRMC.

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