Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. It's goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

COPD and Why You Should Stop Smoking

November 14, 2017

Do you know the THIRD leading cause of death in the United States? It’s chronic lower respiratory disease—and COPD is its biggest component, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

COPD—or, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease— is a progressive, incurable lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It’s caused by long term damage to the lungs and manifests most commonly as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Conservative estimates say that 20 million Americans have COPD, with some of those affected yet to be diagnosed. Worldwide? The number tops more than 200 million.

Cigarette smoke causes between 80 and 90 percent of COPD cases, which occur in current or former smokers over age 40.

With COPD Awareness month in November and November 16 marking the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout it’s an ideal time to learn more about this condition and the importance of quitting smoking.

“The best advice we give everyone is to never start smoking. Ninety-eight percent of smokers begin before age 21 and continue for many years,” says Dr. Richard S. Novitch, Director of Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Burke.

Dr. Novitch does acknowledge that smoking is a very difficult addiction to overcome. That’s because, as most people know, nicotine can be highly addictive. Like other addictive substances, nicotine promotes changes in the central nervous system, and stimulates the release of “feel good” chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. When levels of those neurotransmitters wear off, withdrawal symptoms, like irritability, anxiety, restlessness, and cravings occur.

Indeed, research confirms that quitting smoking is hard. People who ultimately succeed often have attempted to quit anywhere from 8 to 12 times.

In his foreword to the Clinician’s Guide to Tobacco Dependence, (2014), Dr. Stephen Shroeder, Director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California San Francisco, offers hope:

There are now a number of evidence-based treatments that have been shown to increase the probability of quitting. These start with the simple recommendation from trusted clinicians. Counseling, either in-person or via toll-free telephone quit  lines, accessed via 1-800-QUITNOW, is effective. Seven forms of FDA-approved medications have been proven to increase quit rates. Five of these are nicotine replacement products.”  

But it’s never too late to quit, says Burke’s Dr. Novich. That’s because, “going forward, cessation arrests the progression of pulmonary disease, and decreases the decline of lung function.”

So, if your breathing is not as effortless as it was a year ago, you may want to talk to your doctor. Common signs and symptoms of COPD include a long-lasting chronic cough, coughing with mucus, shortness of breath, wheezing and fatigue. In its early stages, a person may attribute COPD symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue to aging—which is why seeing your physician is an important first step.

Burke offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment for COPD, and serves young adult through elderly patients. In the outpatient program, patients can learn to develop strategies that enhance breathing and exercise tolerance. There is also a learning component designed to help the patient execute the strategies developed in the gym with the goal of having a better quality of life.

Studies have shown that patients with COPD who participate in prescribed exercise benefit both physiologically and psychologically. These benefits include:

  • Increased physical capacity
  • Decreased anxiety about breathlessness
  • Greater independence with daily activities
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Improved quality of life

For more information about Burke’s inpatient cardiopulmonary program, click here. For more information on outpatient pulmonary rehab, click here.

 -- Carol Vartuli 

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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