Take a Deep Breath – COPD and Lung Attacks

Video author: Robin Duke
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Video transcript

Debra Scott:
Results of a new national survey show that 4 out of 5 Canadians are more concerned about having a heart attack than a lung attack. Yet when it results in hospitalization, a lung attack can have the same consequences as a heart attack related to quality of life, future hospital admissions, and mortality.

Dr. Ken Chapman - Respirologist, University Health Network:
It's great that Canadians are concerned about their heart health, but it shouldn't lead them to neglect their lung health. Diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD we call it, can be just as disabling, just as deadly as heart disease.

According to Dr. Chapman, it's important to know the signs of a lung attack and to contact your doctor if you notice any. Signs can include an unusual increase in shortness of breath, chest tightness or cough, or changes in phlegm or a cold that won't go away.

Maureen Howard - COPD Patient:
When I first started having a lung attack, I would suddenly get very hot and I would start coughing and coughing until finally my breathing would get faster and faster till I could not get air into my lungs.

Maureen Howard, a mother of 2 and grandmother of 5, had COPD long before she was diagnosed with it.

When I had my heart attack, I had my husband call 911 straight away because I knew I was in serious trouble. But all the lung attacks that I had had I wouldn't let him call 911 because I really didn't know it was that serious. Now I know that every time I had a lung attack my lungs died a little bit.

According to Dr. Chapman, identifying a lung attack early and seeing your doctor before you need hospitalization is key.

Dr. Chapman:
If you have COPD and feel that you're having a lung attack, you should be in touch with your doctor quickly. You should review those worsening symptoms, see if your day-to-day medications need adjustment, see if you need an additional medication to see you through the attack. And we know the more quickly you do that, the better will be the outcome.

Scott: In Canada, over 770,000 people live with COPD, which causes permanent narrowing of the lung airways. It is the leading cause of hospitalization among major chronic illnesses and the 4th leading cause of death. Yet the survey supported by GlaxoSmithKline, Incorporated, showed 29% of Canadians believe heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization, followed by diabetes. Only 13% correctly identified COPD.

Dr. Chapman: We see more lung attacks and more hospitalizations at this time of year, the cold and flu season. Those infections can lead to sudden and severe lung attacks, but there are preventive measures you can take.

Scott: Dr. Chapman advises getting the flu shot, avoid close contact with those who are sick, and washing hands regularly. It's important for everyone but critical for those with COPD.

When I went to rehab, I was educated on what happens to my lungs. I now know that when I have a lung attack I call my doctor and get advice. I also have learned that I can now live with COPD and not be so afraid and live a normal life.

Debra Scott reporting.