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  The Minority/ Black Health Blog  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Is COPD, and Why Should African Americans Be Concerned?

African American Man With COPD

COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the third leading cause of death in America, killing more than 120,000 people each year. The disease has been gaining much attention in ads for Symbicort, Atrovent and Spiriva, drugs approved for COPD. What causes COPD, how is it treated, and is there a cure?

COPD is a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema which makes it difficult to breathe. Other symptoms of COPD include chronic coughing and wheezing, shortness of breath, and increased mucus. According to the American Lung Association, smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking. But there are other risk factors, too, such as air pollution, second-hand smoke, exposure to dust and chemicals, even smoke from wood stoves that are not properly ventilated.

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which will over time scar the lung tissue. Scar tissue will obstruct air flow and make it hard to breathe. Emphysema occurs when air sacs in the lungs are destroyed resulting in the lungs carrying less oxygen to the bloodstream. The combination of these two diseases is what is known as COPD. African Americans over 40 with COPD have a 30 percent greater chance of ending up in the hospital within 30 days of being diagnosed.

There is no cure for COPD. Although lung damage is irreversible, treatments such as prescription drugs, steroids and oxygen therapy can help reduce the severity of COPD by opening airways and clearing mucus. It also helps to get plenty of rest, avoid reclining when eating, reduce salt intake (it retains fluid), don't eat late, and take your time with meals, eating more slowly. Of course, do not smoke if you have COPD.
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