UT doctors urge smokers with coughs to get tested for COPD

UT doctors urge smokers with coughs to get tested for COPD

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Carrie Edwards, a young mother, recently got a breathing test to test for COPD. Carrie Edwards, a young mother, recently got a breathing test to test for COPD.
"It's so common that the person who is still smoking will attribute that daily cough to just their smoker's cough," said Dr. James Shamiyeh. "It's so common that the person who is still smoking will attribute that daily cough to just their smoker's cough," said Dr. James Shamiyeh.
"I was to the point where I didn't care if I died. I was so sick, I did not care," said COPD sufferer Sharon Ragsdale. "I was to the point where I didn't care if I died. I was so sick, I did not care," said COPD sufferer Sharon Ragsdale.

BY LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an often under-diagnosed lung problem.

It obstructs the patient's airflow and may include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or more.

Many people mistakenly believe that COPD is only an older person's disease, but smokers of any age are at risk.

Smoking is a primary cause, but doctors say other pollutants in the environment may contribute as well.

Carrie Edwards, a young mother, recently got a breathing test, called spirometry, at University Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

She recently quit a 14-year smoking habit and is considered at risk for COPD.

Fortunately, Carrie's test results are good, showing no obstructions in her lungs. The news comes as a relief.

"It made me feel good, but it was still hard. Even though they were good results, it's a difficult test to be able to do," she said.

If Carrie had COPD, the test would have been even tougher.

The two main symptoms of COPD are a daily cough and shortness of breath - two symptoms that are easy to explain away.

Dr. James Shamiyeh with University Pulmonary and Critical Care says the symptoms develop gradually, over time.

"It's so common that the person who is still smoking will attribute that daily cough to just their smoker's cough and not really to a sign or symptom of a disease process, so they won't even mention it to their primary care doctor," Dr. Shamiyeh said.

Treatment is mostly inhaler-based, with the goal to simply improve a patient's quality of life.

Sharon Ragsdale knows all about that. She has lived with COPD for at least a dozen years. She blames her disease on 20 years of smoking and exposure to unknown environmental causes.

"I could not breathe in and I could not breathe out. I mean, it was really bad," Ragsdale recalls.

Bad enough, Ragsdale never picked up another cigarette.

"I was to the point where I didn't care if I died. I was so sick, I did not care," she said.

Dr. Shamiyeh says the earlier you quit smoking, the better.

"Even if you've developed COPD, if you continue to smoke, your lung function declines fairly rapidly over time," he said.

Ragsdale chose to slow the progression of disease in her lungs and vowed to live as normal a life as possible.

"I really don't have a lot of time to worry about being sick," she said. "I just try to stay busy."

Free COPD screenings will be held on Monday, November 12th, at University Pulmonary and Critical Care at UT Medical Center.

For more information, call (865) 305-6970.

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