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COPD Myths Debunked

The Truth About the 10 Most Common COPD Myths

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Updated January 23, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Like any illness, COPD is not devoid of misconception. There are a number of COPD myths that are completely false and not backed by scientific research. But like any popular myth, the fact that the information you are hearing bears little resemblance to the truth does little to stop it from being passed around, either by word-of-mouth or over the internet. If you have COPD, it is important that you not buy into these fallacies and instead educate yourself about the facts so that you can then educate others.

Let's take a look at some of the most common myths surrounding COPD and finally debunk them:

1. COPD is a Death Sentence

End of Life Issues
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com, user 13Claudio13

Chances are, when you were initially diagnosed with COPD, you went into shock. You may have even asked your doctor  "am I going to die" or "how long do I have to live." While it is important to understand there are factors that influence COPD life expectancy, certain lifestyle changes and treatment, including smoking cessation, medications, diet and exercise, can alter the course of the disease.

2. Only Smokers Get COPD

Smoking and COPD
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com, user Walter Zerla

How many times have you been accused of being a smoker because you have COPD? Although COPD is primarily caused  by smoking, smoking is NOT the only cause of the disease. There are genetic and environmental risk factors that increase the risk of developing COPD, as well.

3. There is No Effective Treatment for COPD

COPD Treatment
Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Staff

Not true at all. In fact, according to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease, COPD treatment can "prevent and control symptoms, reduce the frequency and severity of exacerbations, improve health status, and improve exercise tolerance."

4. Asthma is COPD

Asthma
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, user Kendra-Jane

Although asthma was once included in the broad spectrum of disorders classified as COPD, this is no longer applicable. They are two very separate illnesses in terms of disease onset, frequency of symptoms, and reversibility of airway obstruction.

5. COPD is a Disease of Old Age

Preventing COPD Exacerbation
Photo © Flickr.com, user askinfortomorrow

It's true that most people are diagnosed with COPD in the fifth or sixth decade of their lives, but people who have a genetic form of COPD caused by alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can get the disease much earlier in life, often between the ages of 32 and 41.

6. People With COPD Should Not Exercise

Pulmonary Rehab
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

Yes, exercise may be more difficult than it used to be once you are diagnosed with COPD, but this does not mean you should not exercise, even if it makes you short of breath. Exercising is one of the best ways to increase your self-esteem, improve your health status, feel better overall, and live a higher quality of life.

7. A Healthy Diet Does Little to Improve COPD

COPD Diet
Photo Courtesy of Flickr.com, user Heidi 33

Did you know that your weight and the foods you eat are directly related to the amount of energy you have? And that people with COPD require as much as 10 times the energy of a healthy person to breathe? That means a person with COPD may require more calories than a healthy person (though not as much as 10 times more). A healthy diet not only gives you the energy you need to breathe, but it helps prevent COPD exacerbation and malnutrition, two common complications of COPD.

8. COPD Means the End of My Sex Life

Sex and COPD
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, user Henry.G

Wrong! Many couples avoid sexual intimacy alltogether because they fear that dyspnea will render them unable to complete the act. While it is true that people with COPD often get more winded during sex than they did before, there are steps you can take and easy sex positions you can try that will help you maintain intimacy with your partner.

9. COPD is a Man's Disease

Women and COPD
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com, user Bim

Gone is the perception that COPD occurrs more predominantly in men. In fact, the year 2000 marked the first year that more women than men died from the disease. This trend is likely to continue and rise, as the number of female smokers has also increased in recent years.

10. My Lungs Will Repair Themselves Once I Quit Smoking

Lungs and COPD
Photo courtesy of A.D.A.M.

Unfortunately, COPD is an irreversible process. Once diagnosed, the damage is done and the lungs do not repair themselves. But smoking cessation is the best way to slow the progression of the disease and increase survival in people with COPD. Benefits of quitting begin almost immediately after putting out your last cigarette.

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