November 1, 2012
Contact: Diana Yee, Kaiser Permanente, 510-271-6671
Learning to Breathe Easier: A Kaiser Permanente Member Shares Her Inspiring Story of Managing Chronic Lung Disease
November is National Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month
When it comes to healthy living and healthy aging, it’s a good idea to keep things simple — take things one step at a time, make sure to get a breath of fresh air and stay active.
For Roxlyn Cole, those are words to live by. Roxlyn is one of 12 million Americans who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. But COPD hasn’t stopped Roxlyn from soaring to new heights. To stay fit and healthy, the 74-year old climbs the stairs of 56-story buildings as part of the American Lung Association’s annual Fight for Air Climb in Denver. She braves the multi-stair indoor climb to raise awareness and money for lung-disease research.
Roxlyn’s Kaiser Permanente pulmonologist, Christopher Bates, MD, says, “She’s taken a disease which for many people, knocks them down, and used it as a rallying point. Just because you have lung disease doesn’t mean you can’t improve your quality of life.” Roxlyn even recruited Dr. Bates to join her on the stair climb.
November is National COPD and Lung Disease Awareness month. While Roxlyn has been living with this serious but treatable lung condition for nearly 10 years, it is estimated that millions of Americans have gone undiagnosed. They may shy away from activities they love because they experience shortness of breath, constant coughing or wheezing. Dr. Bates says a physical exam and a simple, noninvasive breathing test called a spirometry can determine if one might have COPD.
Roxlyn wants others with COPD to know that while doing basic things around the house can sometimes be challenging, a positive attitude and commitment to staying healthy can help them thrive. Roxlyn says she has been able to maintain her health, “because I have worked hard to exercise, eat right and follow my doctor’s orders with inhalers that help my condition.”
Launched in July 2011, Care Stories is a collection of first-person video narratives from Kaiser Permanente members talking about their own care in their own words, unscripted and uncompensated.
Frequently asked questions about COPD
What is COPD?
COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD is often a mix of two diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The disease gets worse over time, and is most common in people who are older than 60. If there is a chance you could have COPD, it is important to find out as soon as you can. This gives you time to take steps to slow the damage to your lungs.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
- A long-lasting (chronic) cough
- Mucus that comes up when you cough
- Shortness of breath
What causes COPD?
- Smoking tobacco and breathing secondhand smoke
- Breathing chemical fumes, dust or air pollution over a long period of time
How is COPD diagnosed?
A physician will:
- Do a physical exam and listen to your lungs
- Ask you questions about your past health and whether you smoke or have been exposed to other things that can irritate your lungs.
- Have you do breathing tests, including spirometry, to find out how well your lungs work.
- Do chest X-rays and other tests to help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms.
How is COPD treated?
The best way to slow COPD is to quit smoking, if you are. Your doctor can prescribe treatments that may help you manage your symptoms and feel better.
- Medicines can help you breathe easier. Most of them are inhaled so they go straight to your lungs. If you get an inhaler, it is very important to use it just the way your doctor shows you.
- A lung (pulmonary) rehab program can help you learn to manage your disease. In time, you may need to use oxygen some or most of the time.
How to stay as healthy as you can
- Avoid things that can irritate your lungs, such as smoke, pollution, and air that is cold and dry.
- Use an airconditioner or air filter in your home.
- Take rest breaks during the day.
- Get regular exercise to stay as strong as you can.
- Eat well so you can keep up your strength. If you are losing weight, ask your doctor or dietician about ways to make it easier to get the calories you need.