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4 Common COPD Myths Debunked

A new diagnosis can be overwhelming and it can often feel difficult to find the right information. There is always a sea of misinformation available about any health condition, so if you are newly diagnosed with anything, it is essential that you seek out clear and accurate information to help you cope with your diagnosis as much as possible. COPD is no exception, and it is common for people to hear a number of different myths about this disease. Read on to hear the most common myths out there regarding COPD and to learn the truth about living with COPD

The Most Common COPD Myths

Myth #1: There is no way to treat COPD; it is a death sentence.

This one is absolutely false. While there is no cure for COPD, COPD is very treatable, and many people diagnosed with COPD go on to live long and happy lives. No matter what, COPD will require some changes in your life in order to help you stay as healthy as possible. You may need to adjust your diet and activity level (though often that means getting regular exercise rather than no exercise), and you may need to begin new medications or start oxygen therapy. The changes you need to make will depend on the COPD stage you have been diagnosed with, as well as the symptoms you are experiencing. Talk to your doctor about what treatments will work best for your particular stage and symptoms, and find out what you should expect from COPD treatment in your life. Regardless of adjustments you will need to make in your life, COPD is a disease that you will live with. Though it will likely impact your ultimate life expectancy, COPD is certainly not a death sentence. With proper treatment, COPD is quite treatable and you can continue participating in an active, joyful life.

Myth #2: Once you have been diagnosed with COPD, there is no reason to quit smoking.

Again, this is absolutely incorrect. In most COPD cases, smoking is the cause of COPD in the first place, and continuing to smoke will only speed the progression of the disease. The damage done to the lungs over time is what causes COPD, and this damage builds up. The longer you smoke, the more cumulative damage is done to your lungs and the worse your COPD symptoms will be. Your lungs may not heal after you quit smoking, but they will recover somewhat. Though the damage done to the alveoli and other lung tissue is often permanent, quitting smoking will reduce the strain on your lungs. This helps your lungs function better overall and minimizes the struggle to breathe effectively. The sooner you quit smoking, the better off your lungs will be. Moreover, if you are still smoking, your COPD treatments will be less effective and you will experience less relief from your symptoms. Smoking cessation allows your body to respond better to treatment, which helps to slow the progression of your disease. Being diagnosed with COPD does not mean you and your health are a lost cause. Every effort to improve your health and your breathing, including quitting smoking, makes a difference. If you need help with smoking cessation, talk to your doctor right away. It is never too late to quit smoking, and the sooner you quit, the better for your lungs and your overall health.

Myth #3: Being diagnosed with COPD means you will no longer be able to exercise.

Woman kayaking with Inogen One G5

False! After COPD diagnosis and a thorough analysis of your overall health, doctors will recommend an exercise regimen to help you maintain healthy lung function and stamina. Moderate exercise and strength training are actually a common aspect of COPD treatment and an essential part of pulmonary rehabilitation, improving shortness of breath, fatigue and oxygenation. You may need to learn how to use breathing exercises or supplemental oxygen when you exercise if you get short of breath, but staying active is critical to your overall mental and physical health and most patients find that they experience less shortness of breath with regular exercise. Your exercise regimen will depend somewhat on your COPD stage and symptoms, but your health care team can help you learn to breathe properly and use your treatment tools during times of exertion, which will help you maintain your oxygen levels and your quality of life. Your doctor may recommend that you take a daily walk, try restorative yoga classes or simply work on stretching your arms and legs each day. Moving your body is good for you in every possible sense, but it can also reduce your likelihood of developing complications. In fact, studies have found that physical inactivity is one important predictor of COPD outcome. The studies show that patients with lower levels of physical activity experienced a higher risk of COPD exacerbation and hospitalization associated with COPD flare-ups. Even a decline in physical activity over time was shown to increase the risk of exacerbation. 

Alternatively, people with COPD who got regular moderate exercise were less likely to experience exacerbations or associated hospitalization. In short, exercise improves the lives of people with COPD by helping to reduce symptoms and the risks of exacerbation, as well as even reducing the anxiety and depression that is often associated with inactivity.

Myth #4: COPD is rare, and only smokers get it anyway.

COPD is not rare. In fact, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States (after heart disease, cancer and stroke), and over 16 million people in the United States are living with a COPD diagnosis. Approximately 40 out of every 100,000 deaths in the United States have been attributed to COPD, and over 7 million emergency department visits are the result of COPD. Perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that COPD often goes undiagnosed in its early stages, and some estimates suggest that up to 12 million people in the United States are living with undiagnosed COPD.

While it is true that smoking is the cause of the majority  of COPD cases and is the most common cause of COPD, smoking is not the only cause of the disease. Unfortunately, repeated exposure to any harmful lung irritant can put you at risk of developing COPD, as can a rare genetic condition called AAT deficiency. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that it may be up to 1 out of every 4 Americans diagnosed with COPD has never smoked cigarettes. If you are a smoker and do not think you are at risk of developing COPD, think again. Smoking (and particularly longterm smoking) is the leading cause of COPD and accounts for up to 8 out of every 10 COPDrelated deaths. Approximately 20% of smokers develop COPD, so if you are a smoker, COPD is a real risk. However, even nonsmokers need to look out for signs of COPD. If you know that you have been exposed to lung irritants at home or in your workplace, know the signs of COPD and see your doctor regularly to have your lungs and oxygen levels assessed. If you know that the AAT deficiency runs in your family, it is a good idea to get tested for it. Most importantly, protect your respiratory system however you can. Never smoke, but if you already started, quit right away. Avoid exposure to lung irritants whenever possible, and make sure you keep your body healthy overall. There is no guarantee that you will not develop COPD at some point, but there is a lot you can do to prevent the development of this disease. 

Living Beyond COPD Myths

Even with a COPD diagnosis, you have a lot to live for! Make sure that you stay educated and get all the information you need so that you are not dissuaded from participating in your life by inaccurate COPD myths. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your COPD symptoms and stay as active as possible. You may need to make some changes, but your life does not need to stop because of a COPD diagnosis. If you are prescribed oxygen therapy, contact Inogen today to find out how our portable oxygen concentrators can help you breathe better and improve your freedom, independence and mobility. Enjoy your life and spend time doing the things you love with the people you love. Discover how you can get out there and prove those COPD myths wrong by doing what you can to maintain your quality of life















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