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In people who have COPD, the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs are partially blocked, making it difficult to get air in and out. COPD is a major cause of death and illness throughout the world. It kills more than 120,000 Americans each year. That’s one death every 4 minutes.

According to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), 2008 hospital re-admissions within 30 days of initial treatment were 30% higher among black patients aged 40 years or above with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), compared to those in Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders and about 9% higher than in whites.

COPD can also occur in people who have had long-term exposure to things that can irritate your lungs, like certain chemicals, dust, or fumes in the workplace. Heavy or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke or other air pollutants may also contribute to COPD even if they have never smoked or had long-term exposure to harmful pollutants.

In some people, COPD is caused by a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin, or AAT, deficiency. While very few people know if they have AAT deficiency, it is estimated that close to 100,000 Americans have it. People with AAT deficiency can get COPD even if they have never smoked or had long-term exposure to harmful pollutants.

Quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to treat COPD. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. Many hospitals have programs that help people quit smoking, or hospital staff can refer you to a program. Ask your family members and friends to support you in your efforts to quit. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke. (Secondhand smoke is smoke in the air from other people smoking.)

Treatment for COPD can be different for each person and is based on whether symptoms are mild, moderate or severe. Treatments include medication, pulmonary or lung rehabilitation, oxygen treatment, and surgery. There are also treatments to manage complications or a sudden onset of symptoms.

• Bronchodilators are medications that work by relaxing the muscles around your airways, opening them and making it easier to breathe. Bronchodilators can last either 4-6 hours or 12 hours, depending on the type. Most bronchodilators are inhaled directly into the lungs with the use of an inhaler. People with mild COPD may use inhalers only when needed. Those with moderate or severe COPD may need more regular bronchodilator treatment.

In addition to medications, doctors may recommend pulmonary or lung rehabilitation (rehab) to help people with COPD stay active. Pulmonary rehabilitation can include exercise training, nutrition advice, and education about managing the disease. A program of pulmonary rehabilitation would be managed by doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, exercise specialists, and dietitians, and would be customized for each patient.

For people with severe COPD and low levels of oxygen in the blood, doctors may recommend oxygen therapy to help with shortness of breath. Using extra oxygen more than 15 hours per day can help you perform tasks or activities with less shortness of breath, protect the heart and other organs from damage, help you sleep more, improve your alertness during the day, and help you live longer.

There are two types of surgery that are considered in the case of severe COPD: a bullectomy, which removes a large air sac that may compress a good lung, or lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). LVRS is a procedure in which surgeons remove sections of damaged tissue from the lung. A lung transplant may be done for some people with very severe COPD.