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An intro to COPD

This is the first in a series of columns about chronic disease. I was diagnosed with severe COPD at the age of 55. Had it not been for a double lung transplant at the age of 71, I would likely be dead now. Awareness is one of our biggest problems, and these articles are aimed at increasing knowledge about lung disease and living with chronic health conditions.

COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It can be emphysema or chronic bronchitis, a combination of both, or other lung disorders. It represents serious lung disease that progressively grows worse.

Frightening, and rightfully so. COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 120,000 people each year, one death every four minutes.



More than 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and another 12 million or so have the disease and are not yet aware of it. The onset of COPD is subtle, leading people to blame their symptoms on age or simply being overweight or out of shape

The symptoms include shortness of breath with exertion, excess mucus, wheezing and coughing. Anyone noticing any of these signs should check with their physician.



Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Secondhand smoke, air pollution and industrial chemicals are also contributing factors.

Life does not end with a diagnosis of COPD. There are a number of things that can be done to fight the disease. If the patient is still smoking, they should quit.

Supplemental oxygen may be prescribed. Oxygen may be required 24 hours a day, or only part of the time, such as when exercising or sleeping.

Knowledge is power. There are many sources available to learn more about COPD, its causes, effects, and treatment. Your physician or pulmonologist is a good place to start.

Jim Nelson is a former Glenwood Springs resident who works with regional and national cardiovascular and lung organizations.


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