The Korea Herald


Less known than lung cancer, COPD could be just as deadly


Published : Oct. 6, 2011 - 16:46

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Best prevention is to avoid lung irritants, get ongoing care

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease could be just as threatening as lung cancer or any other lung-related disease.

According to Statistics Korea, 5,190 people died of COPD in 2010, an almost fourfold increase from 1991.

The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, COPD defines COPD as a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe because less air flows in and out of the airways in the lung.

COPD causes coughing that produces a large amount of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath which in worst case could be life-threatening, chest tightness and other symptoms. The disease develops slowly and symptoms worsen over time. It can restrict your ability to do routine activities like walking, cooking or taking care of yourself, the organization warns.

There is no cure for COPD yet. The best you can do is avoid lung irritants, get ongoing care and prepare for emergencies.

Mostly the disease is diagnosed among the elderly, but statistics suggest that younger people are susceptible to the disease, too. An increase of deaths was evident among men under 45 years old in Korea.

The increasing number of deaths is probably because COPD is caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants. Smoking in particular is said to be a major culprit and smokers are at more risk of developing the disease. Other factors include secondhand smoke and air pollution at work, among others.

The Korean Academy of Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases suggests that the best way to prevent COPD is to avoid smoking. Seeing doctors regularly to monitor the progress of the disease is also important, it said.

The doctors’ group call on the public to be alert about the disease, as the colder weather means more people mistake COPD for a cold and do not see a doctor for a proper screening and diagnosis.

“Because there is no distinct symptom detected in the early stage of COPD, some people do not find out they have the disorder until 50 percent of their lung function dies. It is important to receive screening regularly for early diagnosis,” said Dr. Ahn Joong-hyun of Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital.

By Bae Ji-sook (