Don't Just Quit Smoking, Take the Next Step
or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the fourth leading
cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of 120,000
people a year in the U.S.
is estimated that currently 10.7 million people have been diagnosed
with COPD. However, up to 24 million Americans have evidence
of impaired lung function, indicating under-diagnosis of this
is a both a preventable and a treatable disease.
people choose to ignore their symptoms and thus are not reflected
in the statistics," says Dr. Norman Edelman, the American
Lung Association's chief medical officer.
O'Hara, 66, of Silverdale, WA, was just 17 when she picked up
her first cigarette. "Like a lot of people who started
smoking back then, I did it because it was the cool, chic thing
to do," she says.
Bogart and Lana Turner did it. So did a lot of people's parents,
teachers, neighbors and even doctors. According to statistics
gathered by the National Institutes of Health, in 1955, by the
time O'Hara picked up the habit, 56 percent of American men
and 28 percent of American women were smoking.
the numbers were so high because no one knew one day there would
be serious health ramifications," says O'Hara, who today
is on a mission to get the word out about the dangers
of smoking. "My bad habit nearly killed me."
1997, shortly after returning home from a trip to Norway, she
became so short of breath she was unable to stand and had to
crawl across the floor to get the food to feed her dogs. Her
son rushed her to the hospital. "I decided during that
four-day period in the hospital, I would never pick up a cigarette
again. And I haven't," she says.
"I learned that COPD is not a death sentence. It's an opportunity, a challenge to regain quality of life. The more fit we become, the better we can breathe."
had been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
(COPD) -- a term referring to a broad group of lung diseases
that leave people hungry for air -- a couple of years prior
to that episode. Her doctor had advised her to quit smoking,
"But I was addicted and just wouldn't listen," she
says. It wasn't until the day she collapsed gasping for air
that the light bulb finally turned on.
now exercises every day, and she's currently training for a
cross country bike ride sponsored by the American Lung Association
to raise awareness about the disease. She also speaks at seminars
aimed at COPD survivors and their families.
should not have to go through what I've gone through. If I knew
then what I know now about the dangers of smoking, I never would
have started," says O'Hara. "Probably the only reason I coped so well as a smoker and ignored my failing ability to breathe was because I was physically fit.".
Despite suffering occasional bouts with shortness of breath, O'Hara climbed mountains, rode horses and spent all of her spare time working hard to restore a neglected estate she and her husband had bought for their retirement.
But as her condition deteriorated, she reached the point where she couldn't even lift a shovel and knew things needed to change. "We sold the estate and moved closer to town," she says.
Shortly after moving, while surfing on the Internet, O'Hara came across two Web sites she says turned her life around. "Finding COPD support groups and the American Lung Association of Washington online changed my life," she says. "I learned that COPD is not a death sentence. It's an opportunity, a challenge to regain quality of life. The more fit we become, the better we can breathe."
Are You a Candidate for COPD?
"The first step is to be diagnosed," points out Dr. Edelman. He recommends that anyone who has ever smoked get a spirometry (lung function) test. COPD can also be hereditary, or occur due to occupational hazards and pollution. If you answer yes to any of these questions, Dr. Edelman recommends you, too, see a doctor.
Do you frequently experience a deep, chronic cough?
When completing routine activities, such as climbing a flight of stairs, are you short of breath?
Do you live in a heavy smog/high-ozone area?
Are you exposed to air pollution at work?
In cold weather, does your chest get tight or do you find it
difficult to breathe?
More about COPD around the Web:
MedlinePlus: COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) - US National Library of Medicine,
National Institutes of Health provides an excellent resource with current news, overviews, diagnosis/symptoms, treatment options, coping and disease management help. Links to many other top resources.
How Serious is COPD? - The American Lung Association does a excellent job of providing the facts on all aspects of this disease.