Kingsport pulmonologist Dr. Joe Smiddy uses spirometry to evaluate a patient for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). David Grace photo.
The bad news is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third-leading cause of death in Tennessee and in America. The good news is it’s a preventable disease — if you don’t smoke.
“COPD is a combination of bronchitis, cough and emphysema. It’s a disease of smokers,” said Kingsport pulmonologist Dr. Joe Smiddy. “Eighty-six to 90 percent comes from smoking. It starts with your first cigarette and progresses to the 30-year-old who has more colds than usual, to the 40-year-old who has to give up golf, to the 50-year-old on oxygen.”
Although 15 million Americans are diagnosed with COPD, it’s estimated that there are another 15 million undiagnosed. In an effort to reach some of these undiagnosed cases, the COPD Foundation will play host to a weekend of events at Bristol Motor Speedway starting today.
“Awareness of COPD is a good thing. We believe it’s the third-leading killer and the greatest undiagnosed killer. Many die of their COPD undiagnosed,” Smiddy said.
Drive4COPD, a campaign of the COPD Foundation, will begin at 5 p.m., today at the Food City on Euclid Avenue in Bristol. In addition to an appearance by NASCAR driver Austin Dillon, the honorary ambassador for Drive4COPD, the foundation will hold an awareness and screening event.
On Friday and Saturday, the COPD Awareness and Screening Booth will be open from noon to 7 p.m. in the Speedway’s Corporate Display area near the BMS Hospitality Village. Race fans will have the opportunity to learn more about COPD, purchase pins to benefit the COPD Foundation, and receive free educational materials and gifts.
According to the COPD Foundation, NASCAR fans older than 35 will be given the opportunity to answer the five-question COPD Risk Screener. Should they score higher than a 5, they will be advised to speak with their health-care providers. Additionally, they can call the COPD Information line (866) 316-COPD (2673) to speak with a COPD caregiver or patient who can help them with additional inquiries or help connect them with the proper resources.
Signs and symptoms of COPD include constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough;” shortness of breath while doing everyday activities; producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus); feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath; and wheezing
Because the COPD screenings will be done outside, and because of the large number of fans attending, spirometry — a way to evaluate patients for possible COPD — will not be used.
In a doctor’s office, spirometry is one tool used to diagnose COPD. For this test, patients blow air into a mouthpiece and tubing attached to a small machine. The machine measures the amount of air you blow out and how fast you can blow it. Your doctor will also ask for a complete health history and do a health exam.
If you are a smoker, the single most effective treatment is quitting smoking, Smiddy said.
“Not smoking for six months gets rid of much of the cough, gets rid of much of the sputum,” he said.
While smoking is the major cause of COPD, pollution in the air and irritating fumes and dusts, especially on the job, can also cause COPD. A small number of people have a rare form of COPD called alpha-1 (AAT) related emphysema. This form of COPD is caused by an inherited lack of a protective protein in the blood.
Tobacco use is only part of the lack of health awareness and preventative action, so patients who smoke are often overweight, diabetic, deconditioned, have a poor diet, are lacking intense medical care and are resistant to healthy choices, Smiddy said.
“COPD is a cultural disease. Families smoke together. Many of our current patients started smoking at a very early age, a fact unique to this area,” he said.
Treatment is tailored to the severity of the illness, Smiddy said, and COPD is an expensive disease to treat.
“The worst part of COPD is the guaranteed loss of independence. If they do not die earlier of cancer, heart attack or stroke, they will end up confined to attachment to an oxygen tank at home, or more commonly, in a nursing home,” he said.