COPD: A keen killer of smokers and thousands

With smoking comes many health risks but one of the most serious is Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease that over time, makes it hard to breathe.

The coughing, wheezing and even chest pain are common symptoms in those suffering from COPD.  Although these symptoms may seem minor, COPD is actually the third leading cause of death in the United States and entails serious, long-term disability.

According to The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute:

COPD kills more than 120,000 Americans each year. That’s one death every 4 minutes.

  • More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD.
  • An additional 12 million likely have COPD and don’t even know it.

“It is no surprise that the death rate from COPD and COPD related diseases continues to rise”

“It is no surprise that the death rate from COPD and COPD related diseases continues to rise, said Dr. Peter Yau,who focuses on COPD and other pulmonary medicine, critical care medicine, and sleep medicine conditions at Scott & White.

“With continued education to physicians and the public, diagnosis of COPD should be early to initiate treatment and prevent complications,” Yau added.


So in order to increase awareness about COPD and to encourage those who may be suffering to get treatment, here are a few things to consider.

COPD is Common in Smokers or Ex-Smokers

“Over 90 percent of patient with COPD are ex-smoker and active smokers,” said Yau. “However, clinically evident COPD will develop in only 15 to 20 percent of heavy smokers over time.”

If you are an active smoker, you have an accelerated decline of your lung functions compared to non-smokers due to the tobacco stress on your lungs. More about the relationship between tobacco and your lungs can be seen in this diagram.

Of course, our lungs naturally decline with age and for those who have quit smoking, Yau said you can return to a standard decline of lung functions, even if baseline function is already affected from history of tobacco abuse.

Although smokers are at greater risk for COPD, there are still a small percentage of patients that are diagnosed due to air pollution and occupational exposure. Yau said this is only about 10 percent of the cases, and genetic risk factors accounting for about 1 percent.

COPD is a Long-term Condition

Unfortunately, COPD is a long-term condition, meaning it is not curable.

“The only treatment shown to improve mortality after diagnosis of COPD is nocturnal oxygen supplement, if necessary, and tobacco cessation,” said Yau.

Here are a few other treatment options that Yau recommends to improve your symptoms and improve your function:

  • Inhalers
  • Nebulizers
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation

COPD is Preventable and Treatable

“COPD is a preventable and treatable disease,” said Yau. “It is necessary to work closely with patients to ensure they understand the basic pathophysiology of COPD, their medication regimen, and signs of exacerbation to establish an effective management program.”

If you’re interested in getting more information about COPD, talk to your health care provider or read more about COPD, including causes, symptoms, treatment, and medications.

We’ll work with you to get you on your way to breathing easier.

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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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COPD: A keen killer of smokers and thousands