In the Spotlight
Difficulty Breathing? It Could Be COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a combination of ongoing conditions that affect your lungs and breathing. These conditions can include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD can be prevented and treated. It can be recognized by its key characteristic: difficulty breathing, especially when breathing out. However, if you have COPD, you may have other symptoms.
Veterans are at higher risk of COPD than those in the general U.S. population. Because some of the work Veterans have performed may pose a risk of environmental and occupational exposure, people in the military should be aware of COPD and know the signs that a person may have it. The physical activity associated with military life may uncover symptoms of COPD earlier among people in the armed forces. Patients in the military or veterans may show signs of COPD early on in their lives. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD.
What Is COPD?
In COPD, the airways in your lungs are blocked (obstructed). Because of this, breathing takes more effort. You may have started limiting your activities to avoid shortness of breath. Without treatment, you may not be able to do as much for yourself and need to rely more on others.
Shortness of breath may prompt you to see a doctor. In many cases, though, COPD progresses for years without obvious symptoms. To diagnose COPD, a medical evaluation and tests must be done. Once your doctor suspects COPD, breathing tests are done to learn the extent of the problem.
Treatments for COPD
Your COPD treatment plan will likely include several forms of treatment. These are based on your symptoms and the underlying cause of your COPD. Your health care provider will prescribe the best treatments for your needs.
While COPD cannot be cured, it can be managed. The only reliable way to slow the disease is to stop smoking. Medications may reduce or relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising, doing breathing exercises, and taking rest breaks, may help reduce symptoms. If you have any shortness of breath or any other symptoms, it is important to see your provider as soon as possible.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (Veterans Health Library)
1-855-QUIT-VET (VA's Tobacco Quitline)
SmokefreeVET, (VA-NIH Smoking Cessation Support Program)
Updated February 26, 2020