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Did you know that chronic lower respiratory diseases, which include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- a lung disease that usually worsens over time and can make breathing difficult -- are the third leading cause of death in the United States? Even more alarming, more than 26 million Americans have COPD, which can include chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both, and half don't even know it.

And surprisingly, more women than men are diagnosed with the disease in the United States.

When you have COPD, your airways and the tiny air sacs in the lung (alveoli) have been damaged, which causes swelling or inflammation. This makes it hard to breathe, and can feel like you are inhaling and exhaling through a small straw.

Although smoking is the leading cause of COPD, between 10 and 20 percent of those diagnosed (or one out of six people with the disease) have never smoked. Instead, they probably developed the condition from exposure to air pollution, early childhood sickness or genetic factors.

If you have any of the signs or symptoms listed below, be sure to talk to your health care professional and ask if a lung function test is appropriate:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cough.
  • Wheezing and/or chest tightness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.

Quitting smoking is the only action you can take to slow the progression of COPD, but COPD is treatable and there are many things you can do to help manage your disease.

For more information on COPD and other women’s health conditions, visit

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