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COPD Awareness: The Importance of Understanding COPD

November 20, 2019

What is COPD? Many people know it’s a disease that affects the ability to breathe, but they may not know why this occurs or that COPD is a serious illness, which could increase your risk of developing sepsis. COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It refers to a group of respiratory (lung) diseases that affect how efficiently you can breathe in and out, and how the oxygen from the air is absorbed by your lungs. Most commonly, people with COPD have either emphysema or bronchitis. Some have refractory asthma – asthma that doesn’t respond to treatment and isn’t reversible.

People with COPD are at risk for contracting respiratory infections because of the disease. They also may be taking corticosteroids, which lower the immune system’s ability to fight infections. As a result, people with COPD are more likely to catch colds, the flu, and even pneumonia. Then, as they fight the infection, they have more trouble breathing and this, in turn, can cause further damage to the lung tissue.

November is National COPD Awareness Month and here are some facts and statistics about COPD that may help you understand the scope of the condition and why an awareness month is important:

  • COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the United States
  • While more than 15 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COPD, there are millions more who have the disease but don’t know it
  • People at highest risk for COPD are women, seniors, current or former smokers
  • More women than men in the U.S. have died from COPD
  • Exposure to air pollution increases your risk of developing COPD

COPD is a progressive disease with no cure. However, if you have COPD, proper treatment can slow down the disease’s progress and help reduce the risk of you contracting an infection, which could lead to sepsis.

  • Most importantly, you must avoid air pollutants, including cigarette smoke. So if you smoke or live in a home where someone else smokes, this must stop. Smoking cessation is the most important part of COPD treatment.
  • Take your medications as prescribed. You may be given oral medications (pills) or medication that must be inhaled through an inhaler or mist.
  • Get recommended vaccines against the seasonal flu and pneumonia.
  • Participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs teach you strategies to help improve your breathing through exercise, diet, and more.

If you have COPD, it’s important to watch for any signs of respiratory infection:

  • More or harsher coughing than usual
  • Bringing up discolored sputum (phlegm)
  • Fever
  • Chest pain that is associated with or worsens when you breathe in or out

If you suspect you have an infection, speak to your doctor as soon as possible or go to an urgent care clinic. If you have any signs of sepsis, mention that and use the words, “I’m concerned about sepsis.”

Learn more about COPD and the sepsis connection in our Sepsis and… library: Sepsis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

If you have COPD and have had sepsis, perhaps you would consider sharing your story in our Faces of Sepsis feature. Well over 1,000 people have shared their sepsis stories, creating a community where survivors and those who lost someone to sepsis don’t need to feel alone.