Dear COPD Coach,
I am 52 years old and starting to experience problems with my breathing. At first I thought it was just because I have not been getting any exercise, but now it seems to be getting worse. I am finding it hard to go up the stairs without getting out of breath. My father has breathing problems and so did his father. I have never had any real health problems other than I seem to get a lot of colds. I smoked for about 20 years but quit almost 5 years ago. How do I get this fixed?
–Out of Breath
Dear Out Of Breath,
The fact is, many COPD patients are not diagnosed until their symptoms are such that they have difficulty doing everyday tasks. Even then, many will claim that they are not experiencing any real problems, even though they have drastically cut down their activity levels for fear of getting out of breath. When most people with COPD are finally diagnosed they have lost almost half of their lung function!
Your story brings up some very interesting issues. First, you mention that your father and grandfather had breathing problems. While we believe that all COPD has a genetic component, we know of one that exists called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1). You can be a carrier if you have an Alpha-1 gene from one or both of your parents. A simple blood test can determine if you have Alpha-1 and we recommend that every COPD patient, anyone with a history of COPD in their family, or anyone experiencing the symptoms of COPD get tested for Alpha-1. There is a therapy available for Alpha-1 that can drastically slow the progression of the disease.
While your symptoms might be caused by other factors, you should immediately contact your doctor to discuss your concerns. Your doctor will first try and rule out other causes (such as heart problems) for your breathlessness. If your doctor believes you might have COPD, they will probably refer you to a lung specialist who will most likely have you take some tests including a lung function test and x-rays, also possibly a CT scan.
These tests will go a long way in helping determine not only if you have COPD, but how advanced it is. The earlier a COPD diagnosis is made, the better the outcome will be.
If you are diagnosed with COPD, there are lots of things you can do to remain healthy. Get involved in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, eat healthy, take your medications as prescribed and become educated about COPD. The more you know the better equipped you will be to safe guard your health. It is very important for you (or anyone for that matter) to stay away from things that aggravate your breathing such as second-hand smoke, dust, pollution or chemicals. Also, make sure you get a flu shot and you keep your pneumonia shots current.
If you would like to talk with someone, call our COPD information Line at 866-316-COPD (2673) and one of our patient associates will be happy to discuss your concerns. It is important to remember that you are not alone and the COPD Foundation will be with you every step of the way!
The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
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