Live Long and Prosper.
Actor Leonard Nimoy immortalized these words as Mr. Spock in the Star Trek television series and films. Nimoy also shared the phrase in tweets during the last year of his life, encouraging fans to learn from his mistakes and quit smoking, or better yet, never start. Nimoy died in early 2015 of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
"I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP," Nimoy tweeted when he went public with his diagnosis in January 2014.
According to the American Lung Association smoking is the leading cause of COPD, a term that describes a variety of progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis. More than 12 million people have COPD and another 12 million may have the condition and not know it.
What are the Risk Factors?
- Smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) or being exposed to second-hand smoke. About 90 percent of people who get COPD have a history of smoking; most are 40 years of age or older.
- Environmental factors. Long-term contact with harmful pollutants like chemicals, dust and fumes in the workplace and the home.
- Genetics. Even people who have not smoked or been exposed to pollutants can develop COPD if they have a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency in which a protein that protects the lungs is absent.
What are the Symptoms?
Early signs of COPD include a chronic cough, shortness of breath while doing routine activities, frequent respiratory infections, and wheezing. Talk with your doctor if you notice any COPD symptoms. Diagnosis typically involves simple and painless lung function tests.
What Can You Do if You Have COPD?
Although there is no cure for COPD, there are steps you can take to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
- Quit smoking: If you continue to smoke, you will continue to damage your lungs. Some symptoms can improve after you stop smoking and the disease progresses more slowly. Leonard Nimoy lived for 30 years after he quit smoking.
- Exercise: Talk to your healthcare professional about an exercise plan. Exercise, done correctly and safely, is one of the best things you can do to feel better and be less short of breath.
- Eat a healthy diet to provide the needed energy to function well and strengthen your body’s natural defense system. If you are overweight, a healthy diet can help you lose weight which may help your symptoms.
- Take your medication as directed: Review your medications with your doctor and ask about anything that may be confusing.
- Get a flu shot every year and a pneumonia vaccine as recommended by your doctor.
While, unfortunately, we don’t currently know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs COPD causes, we do know that through treatments and lifestyle changes, those with COPD can feel better, stay more active, and slow the progression of the disease. The most important thing we all can do is to support tobacco free living. Lancaster General Health has resources to help.