The official blog of the Lung Institute.
People living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cope with many difficult symptoms, including coughing, fatigue and breathlessness. Their COPD symptoms make even simple, daily tasks nearly impossible to complete. Understandably, people living with COPD often feel lonely, anxious and depressed.
In 2014, author, poet, activist and storyteller, Maya Angelou passed away. She was 86 years old. What many people don’t know is that Maya Angelou also lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What is COPD?
COPD is a type of chronic lung disease that ranges from mild to very severe. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In people with COPD, it is challenging for them to fully exhale old air from their lungs and to inhale new air into their lungs. In essence, COPD blocks airflow into and out of the lungs.
Specifically, emphysema destroys the lungs’ tiny air sacs gradually, and chronic bronchitis inflames the air passages and increases mucus production. Often, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have trouble maintaining adequate blood oxygen levels. Sometimes, doctors prescribe oxygen therapy to help people improve their blood oxygen levels.
Smoking cigarettes is the number one cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, other factors also play a role in the development of COPD, such as genetics and exposure to environmental pollutants.
Maya Angelou and COPD
Angelou didn’t discuss her condition often, so most people didn’t realize she had COPD. Like many other people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Angelou believed she developed the condition after smoking cigarettes for 40 years.
By the end of her life, she used a walker or a wheel-chair to get around. She could no longer climb stairs, so she used a lift. Angelou also said she had a collapsed lung, and she needed oxygen therapy.
Angelou lived her life fully and always made time to continue her mission to teach and inspire others. Over her life, Angelou acted, wrote, advocated, taught, sang, told stories and more. Like many people, she also had fears and struggles that she wanted to overcome.
As her COPD progressed, she used oxygen therapy most of the time, and even used it while on stage. She would explain her condition and why she needed oxygen to the audience. Angelou said that she needed oxygen at least every two to three hours. To fly overseas to give talks in England, she would need enough oxygen to make the seven-hour flight.
Like many people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic lung diseases, traveling and maintaining their quality of life can be challenging, especially when oxygen therapy is needed.
How Many People Have COPD?
Almost 15.7 million people in the United States reported having a COPD diagnosis. In fact, more than 50 percent of adults with low pulmonary function did not know that they had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The actual number of people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may be higher. Currently, COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
According to the World Health Organization, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the fourth leading cause of death globally. Worldwide, COPD claimed 3.2 million lives in 2015.
COPD and What You Can Do
Like Maya Angelou, every person living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has a unique story to share. While COPD does not have a cure, there are steps you can take to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and breathe better.
Many doctors recommend their patients participate in pulmonary rehabilitation, a program that teaches people how to breathe and function better. In addition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease medications, including bronchodilators and corticosteroids, are often prescribed to open the airways and reduce inflammation.
Lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly often help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In fact, gentle exercise like walking helps people build muscles and improve stamina. The key is to start slowly and build over time.
For many of our patients, stem cell therapy has helped them breathe easier and return to many of their favorite activities. Stem cell therapy works to promote healing from within the lungs and may improve quality of life. If you or a loved one has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or another chronic lung disease and would like to learn more about stem cell treatment options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.