Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progressive disease of the lungs that causes shortness of breath. This debilitating disease literally takes your breath away and causes shortness of breath while it causes constant changes in breathing. In this country alone, 160,000 people die from the disease each year. With a noticeable number of cases in rural America, COPD has become a health disparity in economically deprived rural areas.
In fact, Dr. Meridith McCormack of Johns Hopkins University states, “Living in a rural area increases the risk of COPD by 16% compared to the 8% national average.” However, the struggle remains in research funding. Despite being the third leading cause of death to Americans, it ranks 16 when it comes to research funding.
In this video, The Challenges of Chronic Disease in Rural Areas: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), news personality Ted Koppel narrates a cause deep to his heart. His wife, Grace Anne Dorney-Koppel, President of Dorney-Koppel Foundation, struggles with COPD every day. Her words resonate with many when she says, “We need equivalent access to care, equivalent access to diagnosis. I think we have moved to a point that it is so clear that there is an epidemic and people are struggling for breath in rural America and they are not being diagnosed and their dying.”
COPD is considered to be preventable. Often referred to as the “don’t tell disease,” patients don’t tell providers about the symptoms and providers many times fail to ask. Education on what causes COPD can help patients understand what is needed to preserve their respiratory health. Health professionals should discuss factors like cigarette smoking, air pollution, and even dust and fibers in the workplace, which are all common in rural communities. It is important to diagnose people early in their disease so that lung function can be preserved. This means educating patients who complain of respiratory symptoms.
Healthcare professionals need to make sure that their patients know how and when to use their inhaled medications and oxygen when needed to treat their COPD. The one treatment that almost always improves the quality of life for COPD patients is pulmonary rehabilitation. However, pulmonary rehab facilities are located in urban centers which obviously presents challenges to the rural population.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is considered a preventable cause of death. COPD treatments are available, but research and collaborative stakeholder efforts are needed to impact the disease.
Learn more about living with COPD.