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February 22nd, 2012

Prevent COPD with a few simple life changes



Larry Lucas
In February, our thoughts often turn to Valentine’s Day, an occasion to celebrate and nurture relationships with loved ones. When you’re with that special someone, even the simplest romantic gesture - a box of chocolates or a heartfelt card - may take your breath away.

But when it’s not the result of love sickness, shortness of breath is no holiday. In fact, it can be devastating.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an obstruction of the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe, and according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD - also known by names such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema - develops slowly and worsens over time. In severe cases, COPD can eventually limit patients from doing even the most basic activities that most of us take for granted, such as walking, cooking or taking care of themselves.

Currently there are more than 12 million people diagnosed with COPD, and the NHLBI estimates that another 12 million are living with the disease but unaware. While COPD doesn’t disproportionately affect the African American community - the American Lung Association reported that 1 million African Americans were diagnosed with the disease in 2008 - studies have shown that African Americans with COPD use fewer health services than their white counterparts, which may lead to racial disparities in health outcomes. It’s important to see your doctor if you exhibit any of the symptoms of COPD, such as chronic coughing or shortness of breath, and to follow their prescribed health regimen for controlling the disease.

There is no cure for COPD, but there are changes you can make to help prevent the disease, manage its effects or slow its progression. If you’re a smoker, it’s no surprise that the most important thing to do is quit smoking immediately. Not only is kicking the cigarette habit a good choice for your health, but your significant other will likely thank you for it too.  For patients diagnosed with COPD, it’s important to build and maintain muscle strength in the arms and legs. Pursuing regular exercise such as walking or biking with your companion can help you stay active and carry out every-day tasks.

In addition to lifestyle changes, you and your doctor should sit down to discuss which therapies may best control your COPD symptoms. Prescription medicines can help treat complications of the disease and improve your overall health. Fortunately, a survey released this month by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) reveals that there are 54 medicines in development for COPD by America’s biopharmaceutical research and manufacturing companies.

Of course, this innovation is for naught if patients can’t access the medicines they need. Luckily, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (1-888-4PPA-NOW; www.pparx.org) helps connect patients in need to patient assistance programs that offer more than 2,500 medicines for free or nearly free and provides information on more than 10,000 free health care clinics in America. It takes less than 15 minutes to find out if you may qualify.

This February, take care that you’re not left breathless. Unless, that is, it’s because of your Valentine.

Larry Lucas is a retired vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

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