Candyce Norris clearly remembers her wakeup call. In 1996 she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a common respiratory disease that makes breathing difficult.
Yet despite her diagnosis, she downplayed her symptoms and how COPD was affecting her everyday life to her doctors for years. "I felt nervous and ashamed to share details about my condition. I didn't want to be judged because I had smoked for so long," she said.
"The wakeup call," Norris said, "was when I realized that no one was judging me. My caregiver and support system, my doctor, everyone wanted to help me manage my symptoms so that I could feel better."
Norris' reluctance to share information isn't unusual for people with COPD. About 27 million people in the U.S. have the condition. Nearly half wait months or years before receiving a proper diagnosis, because many don't realize the severity of their symptoms — being out of breath, wheezing, chest infections — and attribute them to aging or being out of shape.
In fact, a quarter of patients who experienced common COPD symptoms say they did not mention these symptoms to their healthcare provider. Even after diagnosis, many still downplay their symptoms. In a recent survey, as many as nine out of 10 patients with COPD admitted they are generally not honest with their doctor about their condition.
Dr. David Mannino, pulmonologist and respiratory medical expert at GSK says by the time most people with COPD get a diagnosis, they already have moderate to severe symptoms, and have lost significant lung function. "Without the full picture, a doctor may have trouble helping patients and recommending the right treatment plan. It may also lead to improper care."
Mannino says being open with your doctor and caregiver is a key to successfully managing COPD. Studies show getting positive social support is linked to benefits like reduced hospitalizations, fewer exacerbations and better habits like engaging in physical exercise.
To encourage the best possible management of COPD, Dr. Mannino says, "patients should put aside any feelings of shame or hopelessness and share their everyday struggles with their doctors and caregivers."
What is COPD?
COPD is a chronic lung disease brought on by occupational dust or chemicals, smoking or secondhand smoke, and exposure to air pollution. In some cases, people develop COPD due to genetic factors passed down through families. COPD includes two lung problems:
* Chronic bronchitis — coughing and mucus production due to inflammation of the airways over a period of several years
* Emphysema — damage to air sacs in the lungs or collapse of the minuscule breathing pathways in the lungs
For a full list of symptoms and to learn more about COPD, visit www.copd.com.