Skip to content
Font Size

Living With COPD

COPD presents 13 million Americans with new challenges and opportunities for better health.
(continued)

When COPD Is the Diagnosis continued...

John J. Reilly, MD, is acting chief of the pulmonary division at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "When I trained in medicine, we were basically seeing old white guys at the VA," he says. "Now, thanks to the Virginia Slims era, more women than men died of COPD in 2000."

Deb Hannigan may be from the Virginia Slims era, but she's doing all she can to stay healthy and alive and to spread awareness about COPD. Now 52, she was diagnosed at age 34, younger than most with the disease. Diagnosis is more common in those over age 40.

Because she was a medical records coder at a hospital at the time, she had some idea of what COPD was. But it wasn't until her diagnosis that the whole picture came into focus. As is true for many, Hannigan learned that she had both of the main COPD diseases - chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

  • Chronic bronchitis causes swelling of the airways. This makes airways narrow, which obstructs the flow of air. Chronic bronchitis also results in excess mucus production, which causes cough and further obstruction of air movement in and out of the lungs. Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed when a person reports cough and mucus on most days for three months during two consecutive years and when other conditions for cough have been eliminated as the cause.
  • Emphysema damages the air sacs in the lungs. Normally, these tiny balloon-like structures allow the passage of gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) from the lungs to your blood and back out. The air sacs are normally elastic and stretch when filled with air. They spring back to their original shape when they empty after taking a breath of air. Damage to the air sacs from emphysema makes them less elastic so that it becomes difficult to push air out of the lungs. This causes air to be trapped and airways to collapse, leading to obstruction of air flow and difficulty breathing.

 

The Many Challenges of Living With COPD

Since diagnosis, Hannigan's life has changed in many ways. "Everything takes you longer, you can't keep up," she says. "It's a huge effort and you become very short of breath just doing the basics -- taking a shower, getting dressed, trying to get out to do what you have to do. By the time you're ready to go, you don't want to do it. A lot of people just give up."

Next Article:

COPD:
Doing All You Can?

Take the COPD Health Check

Get Started

Which COPD symptom bothers you most?