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Veterans Battle Increased Risk of Lung Disease


  • Published: 2012-10-19 (Revised/Updated 2013-03-24) : Author: John W. Walsh, Co-founder and President of the COPD Foundation
  • Synopsis: Veterans should be aware of COPD a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with breathing encountered from dust fumes and chemicals during service.

A major and growing health concern Veterans should be aware of is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing.

COPD - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most common lung diseases. It makes it difficult to breathe. There are two main forms of COPD: (1) Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus, (2) Emphysema, which involves destruction of the lungs over time. Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.

The chance that Veterans who encounter increased levels of dust, fumes and chemicals during service will develop COPD is three times higher than for the general population In fact, it is the fifth most prevalent disease in the Veteran population, affecting approximately 15 percent of US Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare users. Among hospitalized Veterans aged 65-74, COPD is the fourth most common diagnosis.

Once dismissed as "smoker's cough", COPD is a serious disease that affects an estimated 24 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and about half of these cases remain undiagnosed. The key to stopping the progress of this disease in individuals is early detection. While COPD is mainly a risk factor for smokers, it has been linked to underlying genetic risk factors among healthy non-smokers who have developed the disease.

COPD symptoms include:

Many COPD patients also suffer from anxiety and depression, further increasing the serious medical, financial, and emotional burden on patients and their families. Veterans who show signs of COPD, or think they might be at risk, should consult their physician and ask to be screened for the disease.

In order to help prevent, diagnose and treat the disease, Veterans should get an annual breathing test, called spirometry, to determine if lung function is changing, and discuss any concerns about exposure to environmental hazards with a physician. By knowing the risks that can increase the chances of COPD, Veterans can take steps to reduce their exposure and maintain lung health for a long time to come. In fact, November is COPD Awareness Month, an ideal time for Veterans and all Americans to get tested and learn more about COPD diagnosis, treatment and advances in research.

About the Author: John W. Walsh, who was diagnosed with Alpha-1-related genetic COPD in 1989, is the Co-Founder and President of the COPD Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing and supporting programs, which improve the quality of life through research, education, early diagnosis and enhanced therapy for persons whose lives are impacted by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). He is also the Co-Founder of the Alpha-1 Foundation (a research organization) and AlphaNet, Inc. (a unique, not-for-profit disease management services company run by and for patients). He can be reached at 1-866-316-COPD (2673) or info@copdfoundation.org

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