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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): What to know

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of progressive lung diseases that can make it difficult to breathe. More than 15.3 million people in the United States suffer from COPD, according to the American Lung Association.

“The airways become narrowed and damaged, leading to shortness of breath,” said Michelle Peters, APRN-DNP, with the COPD Center at Utica Park Clinic.

COPD can cause a variety of symptoms, including shortness of breath, wheezing, a long-lasting cough that produces phlegm, increased fatigue and tightness in the chest.

“Symptoms tend to start slowly and should not be ignored, as delaying proper diagnosis and treatments can lead to complications,” Peters said.

So what causes COPD?

“Most often, COPD is caused by smoking,” Peters said. “This means people with secondhand smoke exposure can develop COPD as well. It can also be caused by exposure to certain toxins, fumes and dust. In rare cases, a genetic issue can cause it.”

COPD is a progressive and currently incurable disease.

“But with the right treatments and lifestyle changes, you can manage your symptoms,” Peters said.

Treatments vary by the severity of the disease, according to Peters. Quitting smoking and using inhalers and oxygen (if needed) to ease breathing can help patients with COPD.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can also help individuals with COPD learn different breathing techniques, exercises and other ways to better manage the disease.

The most important thing you can do to lower your risk of developing COPD or to stop its progression is to quit smoking.

“If you smoke, stop,” Peters said. “This can be a challenging process, but your health care provider can help. Keep in mind that vaping is not a good alternative to smoking and can continue lung damage.”

People with COPD are also more prone to respiratory infections, according to Peters.

“To help protect yourself, make sure to get your flu shot every year and talk to your health care provider about the timing of your pneumonia vaccines.”

The COPD Center at Utica Park Clinic is located on the Hillcrest Medical Center campus at 1245 S. Utica Ave. in Tulsa. To schedule an appointment, call 918-579-COPD (2673). To learn more about Utica Park Clinic pulmonologists, click here.