COPD Awareness Month: TN Isn’t Breathing Easy

Almost 30 percent of Tennesseans with COPD also have asthma. (Dennis Skley/flickr)

Almost one in 10 Tennesseans has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD – meaning the state has one of the highest rates in the country. Experts say the incurable disease, which killed almost 4,000 people in 2015 in the Volunteer State, often is undiagnosed and left untreated.
Dr. Mailan Han with the American Lung Association says shortness of breath or frequent incidences of bronchitis both are indicators of the disease.
“Certainly, smoking is a risk factor, but if the patient is also experiencing some of the symptoms, those also would be red flags that they need to talk to their doctor,” she says.
Han says the rate of COPD also could be under-reported since the test to diagnose the disease – spirometry – isn’t used with frequency during doctor and hospital visits. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the chronic illness costs the country upwards of $68 billion annually.
Han says it’s important to remember that there are medications that help patients live with COPD – with 60 percent of people with the disease taking at least one medication for it.
“It’s not curable but it’s definitely treatable,” she adds. “The lung that is destroyed, I have no way of getting it back, but we do have medications that can improve lung function, improve symptoms, as well as reduce the frequency of flare-ups. ”
A majority of patients with the illness are over 45 years old, and 11 percent of women in Tennessee have COPD, compared with six percent of men.