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Dr. Oz on the serious health condition that makes breathing 'a real challenge'

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There are more than 12 million Americans who have COPD, according to Dr. Oz. But “many don’t realize it so they’re not getting the attention that can save their lives,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an umbrella term that encompasses several different lung problems, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory asthma. “They all have to do with irritation and damage to the lungs that take the natural process of taking breath in and out and make it a real challenge,” Oz says.

Being aware of the classic symptoms of COPD can help. They include frequent coughing, mucus, increased shortness of breath and tightness in the chest, according to the COPD Foundation. “Things like wheezing might actually be COPD masquerading as asthma,” notes Oz.

COPD is diagnosed using a non-invasive breathing test called spirometry. “And the way we measure is by having you take a deep breath in and then blow out as fast as you can,” says Oz. Doctors then look at how fast you breathe in and, more importantly, breathe out compared to healthy adults. If you have COPD, the test can help doctors diagnose which of the four stages of the disease you have: mild, moderate, severe, or very severe/end stage, according to the Lung Institute.

Along with symptoms, some coping with the health condition also struggle with the stigma associated with COPD. “So many people blame cigarettes for the problem — and it’s true that cigarettes are a major cause of COPD — but many people with COPD never smoked. And there are other conditions, like genetic conditions, that predispose you to COPD.” Environmental factors, such as being exposed to harmful pollutants at work or second-hand smoke, also increase the risk of developing the disease.

He adds, “What matters is that you’re suffering and you need and deserve help.”

While COPD currently does not have a cure, Oz notes that “there are treatments out there that can be beneficial. This is not a terminal illness if you jump on it and get it ahead of it. You can live a very successful and full life with COPD.”

Oz points out that science is also rapidly making progress with treatments for the health condition. “So if we can keep you healthy, you’ll be alive to take advantage of the treatments as they come around,” he says.

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