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Education Campaign Aims to Increase Awareness of Deadly Lung Disease


U.S. health officials have launched a campaign to boost awareness of a disease most people have never heard of, even though it's one of the world's leading causes of death.

COPD is short for . Also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis or smoker's cough, it's a disease of the lungs and air passages, which become inflamed and interfere with breathing.

"It creeps up on us, until eventually we wheeze, cough, gasp for air," said Grace Anne Dorney Koppel, who is, like many with COPD, a former smoker. "We are breathless with the slightest exertion. We try to sleep sitting up and often lie awake listening to the sounds of our own airways."

Dorney Koppel joined physicians and researchers in Washington to launch a COPD public awareness campaign called "Learn More, Breathe Better," including magazine ads and radio public service announcements.

"(wheezing and coughing) Sound like you? Shortness of breath isn't normal at any age. So talk with your doctor about COPD. Once you know about COPD, you can take steps to treat it and live a more active life. Learn more. Breathe better."

One aim of the campaign is to identify more people with the disease through proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis is done with the help of a simple breathing test called spirometry. You blow into a device that measures the amount of air and how forcefully you expel it. It's cheaper than many other kinds of medical screening, and you don't even have to take your clothes off. Once it's identified, COPD can be treated with oxygen, medicine, or exercise therapy.

The "Learn More, Breathe Better" campaign is led by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a government research center headed by Dr. Elizabeth Nabel. "Through this campaign we hope to increase recognition of this disease, so that those at greatest risk can be diagnosed by getting a simple breathing test and can be treated," she said.

COPD is expected to be the third leading cause of death in the United States by 2020. Professor Sonia Buist of the Oregon Health and Sciences University says the global picture is similar.

"Worldwide, it is presently the sixth leading cause of death, and by 2020 it is projected to be the third leading cause of death worldwide," Buist said. "So it's not just a problem in the developed countries, it's becoming an increasing problem and a huge problem in the developing countries."

The World Health Organization estimates that three million people a year die from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD, about the same number as deaths from HIV/AIDS.