Long-term smokers are at high risk of developing a chronic lung condition called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but many are not even aware they have it during the early stages. In a recent Canadian study of long-term smokers, about one in five were found to have COPD, but only a third of them knew they had the condition.
COPD causes a slow damage to the lungs. The destruction is irreversible, making it the leading cause of death and illness worldwide.
COPD develops slowly, and it may be many years before symptoms become noticeable. The severity of the following symptoms depends on how much of the lung has been destroyed. If you continue to smoke, the lung destruction will be more extensive than if you stop smoking.
- Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
- Chest tightness
- Cough (A cough that doesn’t go away and coughing up large amounts of mucus are common signs of COPD)
- Sputum (mucous) production
Most COPD is caused by long-term smoking and can be prevented by not smoking or quitting soon after you start. Damage to your lungs can’t be reversed, so treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and minimizing further damage.
Breathing in other kinds of lung irritants, like pollution, dust, or chemicals over a long period of time may also cause or contribute to COPD.
If you think you might be at risk of having COPD, ask your doctor to order a simple breathing test called spirometry.
Source: Hill K, et al “Prevalence and underdiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among patients at risk in primary care” CMAJ 2010. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.091784.
Source: “Undiagnosed COPD Common”, MedPage Today, April 6, 2010
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