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Karen Deitemeyer smoked cigarettes for 30 years.
Since the time she turned 15, she would smoke two to three packs a day, but in 1991, she decided to quit smoking after being diagnosed with the beginnings of emphysema. She was told she would have to go on oxygen if she didn’t cut the tobacco cord.
Unfortunately, the damage was already done and Deitemeyer developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
“I was officially diagnosed in 2001, but I probably had had it for 10 years,” said the Melbourne resident. “I was having difficulties climbing stairs, got out of breath vacuuming and couldn’t walk very far without stopping to catch my breath.”
When a pulmonologist diagnosed Deitemeyer’s problem, she was sent home with three inhalers and an oxygen tank.
“I was on oxygen pretty much 24/7 for a while,” Deitemeyer said.
These days, Deitemeyer copes with the help of two different inhalers, medication and oxygen at night and whenever she flies or becomes exerted.
She is not alone in her misery. Dr. Geetha Priyanka, Deitemeyer’s primary care provider, notes that 30 to 40 percent of her patients suffer from COPD.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, approximately 45,000 individuals in Brevard live with the disease, although the American Association of Respiratory Care estimates that only about half of these individuals remain undiagnosed. Fifteen million people in the United States have some stage of COPD.
“COPD is a very common disease,” said Dr. Kerry Spero, who specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine with Health First Medical Group. “According to recent CDC records, it accounts for the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.”
The leading cause of COPD is, of course, smoking, but non-smokers are not out of the woods when it comes to COPD.
“Twenty percent of the persons diagnosed with it have never smoked,” said Deitemeyer, who is advocacy captain for the COPD Foundation in the State of Florida. “Interestingly enough, only 20 percent of smokers will develop COPD.”
By the way, COPD also affects animals such as dogs — and they rarely smoke.
Additional causes of COPD include genetics, exposure to second-hand smoke, other respiratory pollutants and recurrent respiratory infections. As in the case with Deitemeyer, COPD can go undetected for years, because COPD’s primary symptoms of shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing are also common in other issues. Once detected, however, the disease will never truly go away. It is irreversible and slowly progressive.
“There is no cure for COPD,” said Spero. “With therapy, our goal is to improve the quality of life and to help people live as long as possible with the lungs they have. Other goals of care include preventing flare-ups, which can lead to quicker decline in lung function. Patients with lung diseases should stay current on their vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia.”
Treatment includes, first and foremost, foregoing tobacco use. A number of medications such as bronchodilators to open up airways can help alleviate the symptoms of breathlessness.
Spero notes that pulmonary rehabilitation therapy aims to help COPD patients stay as active as possible.
“It’s like physical therapy for your lungs, which helps people learn how to exercise and stay active with chronic lung diseases,” she said.
Exercise is also a critical component of treatment of COPD.
“Exercise is recommended as one of the ways to reverse the de-conditioning that comes from being so short of breath that you are afraid to do anything,” said Deitemeyer, who makes it a point to use her treadmill for half an hour daily, despite the fact that she has to use oxygen. “I’m convinced exercise is one of the most important things that people with COPD can do.”
Deitemeyer, also a 2008 breast cancer survivor, became an awareness-raiser for COPD after noticing how little information was out there about this disease that literally takes your breath away.
Even though COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of disability, it is ranked at No. 155 in research funding by the National Institute of Health because of lack of congressional appropriations. Deitemeyer would love to see that figure change, so she tells her story to educate the general public.
“I realized how many awareness activities were out there about breast cancer, but nothing for COPD,” she said.
The American Lung Association sponsors a Better Breathers Club the third Tuesday of the month at the Health First’s Pro-Health Center in Melbourne across from Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center. For more information, call 321-434-3021.
Although the COPD Foundation does not host face-to-face support groups in the area, it does offer a social media group as part of its website, copdfoundation.org.
Via : floridatoday