Smoking remains a key risk factor for developing this common lung condition.

Image by Mike Ramm

COPD is a common lung condition—particularly among smokers—that can make it difficult to breathe. Sufferers often struggle with shortness of breath and a lack of stamina. Forms of the disease can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Despite many public and private programs aimed at helping people quit cigarettes and tobacco, smoking remains a key risk factor for a host of diseases, including those of the lungs. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People are still smoking and that’s part of the major issue here,” says David Duhamel, who practices pulmonary and critical care medicine at Pulmonary & Medical Associates of Northern Virginia.

Quitting smoking and maintaining an active lifestyle are important steps for those who have been diagnosed with COPD or who could be at risk. Doctors can also provide a variety of medications designed to open the airways and reduce some of the inflammation caused by the condition.

Duhamel notes that patients with a tobacco-related lung disease are at an increased risk for lung cancer and may want to consider regular screening.

Those ages 55 to 80 with a history of heavy smoking, who are still smoking or who quit within the last 15 years are considered “high risk” and should pursue screening, according to the American Lung Association.

“The problem with lung cancer is most patients won’t have any symptoms until they present at a very late stage of disease when they cannot be cured,” says Duhamel.

Challenges with detecting lung cancer early contribute to it being, by far, the leading cause of cancer death in the country.

(Top Doctors 2018February 2018)