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Living with chronic lung diseases
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Living with chronic lung diseases

by the World Health Organization

People with chronic lung diseases fight for air while doing simple tasks. They struggle to stay physically active and risk early death. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is an umbrella term for diseases that impair lungs and leave people feeling breathless.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are familiar types of COPD. The condition is an under-diagnosed, life-threatening disease that currently affects 210 million people worldwide. Much more than a "smoker's cough," it will become the fourth leading cause of death by 2030. Tobacco use, indoor and outdoor air pollution and occupational dusts and chemicals are the primary risk factors.

WHO supports member states as they work to reduce the toll of COPD and coordinates international efforts to improve global respiratory health, particularly in middle- and low-income countries.

Fighting for air

Although Nodari Cherekashvili and Elaine Ackley live in very different parts of the world, they share a common battle to breathe freely. They have learned that the disease is not well known or easily recognized. Yet, as their stories show, they are fighting the condition with healthier lifestyles and access to quality care.

Fighting for air: Nodari Cherekashvili

Nodari Cherekashvili --- a 49-year-old security guard who works and lives in Misikcieli, Georgia --- started smoking as a teenager. He often puffed 20 cigarettes or more a day. Two years ago, his heavy cough worsened and he found himself gasping for air while walking or running fast.

Nodari was diagnosed with COPD during the roll-out of a pilot health project on chronic respiratory diseases by the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD). The alliance --- a WHO partner in the fight to improve global respiratory health --- aims to bolster disease surveillance and prevent and control lung conditions in target countries.

A spirometry test confirmed Nodari's diagnosis by measuring how deeply he breathed and how fast air moved in and out of his lungs.

"I had never heard of COPD. I didn't know what was causing my cough and why it was hard to walk or run," says Nodari. Due to low awareness of lung conditions, many COPD patients in Georgia do not know what causes the disease. Now, thanks to better care, Nodari realizes that smoking caused the illness.

Though millions die from COPD each year worldwide, most health information on COPD prevalence and death rates come only from high income countries, and still the data is difficult and expensive to collect. Thanks to the Georgia effort, more knowledge on the burden of disease in a less wealthy country is emerging.

Along with treatment, Nodari cut his smoking habit down to two cigarettes a day. He is fortunate to be able to pay for care. If he follows the advice of his doctors, quits smoking and continues to be active, his treatments could cost less as his physical state improves.

"A rich man can buy everything except his health…and nothing is more important," says Nodari. Now, with access to quality care, Nodari can easily walk to town to see friends and work in his rose garden.

Fighting for air: Elaine Ackley

Elaine Ackley, 58 years old, lives in Buffalo, New York. At age 16, she started smoking to lose weight, following the advice of her physician at the time. "Every time I started a diet, I started to smoke," she says. After decades of tobacco use, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) developed. As she celebrates her birthday on World COPD Day, 15 November, she marks her triumphs for healthier living.

"I quit smoking for good 15 years ago and started running," says Elaine. Instead of feeling better, her shortness of breath got worse --- signalling a problem. Because COPD develops slowly, it is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 40 years or over.

COPD is a chronic, debilitating lung disease that compromises quality of life and can cause premature death. A diagnosis is confirmed by a simple test called spirometry, which measures how deeply a person breathes and how fast air can move in and out of the lungs.

After diagnosis, Elaine did not give up. She tries to do some exercise every day and stay active. Although exercise will not reverse lung disease, it is an effective way to improve well-being and overall health.

Regardless of the activities Elaine struggles with --- such as dancing, taking long walks along the river with her husband, or simply climbing up the stairs --- she celebrates her successes. "I have outlived the average patient and I still don't need oxygen all the time."

Elaine aims to live life to the fullest, day-by-day. "I love to hug my children and grandchildren… but I am very worried how chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may affect their future lives."



Also in this section:
Living with chronic lung diseases
Archaeologists push back date for earliest cacao beverages

Asia's disappearing tropical forests



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