(HealthDay News) -- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and a new campaign launched Thursday is aimed at spreading awareness about this killer respiratory condition.
The campaign -- sponsored by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and a number of professional, health and advocacy groups -- will include print and radio public service announcements, fact sheets for patients and people at risk for COPD, a Web site, an educational video, and materials to help community-based groups inform the public about the signs and symptoms of COPD.
COPD develops slowly and affects breathing. Symptoms included shortness of breath, constant coughing, wheezing, and excess sputum production.
People over age 45 with a history of smoking are at highest risk for COPD. Other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke or pollutants. Some people have a genetic risk for the disease, according to the NHLBI.
About 12 million Americans are currently diagnosed with COPD, and it's estimated that another 12 million have COPD but have not been diagnosed, even though they have symptoms.
"Many people with early signs of COPD simply avoid activities they used to enjoy because they become short of breath more easily. We want people to know that these symptoms have a name -- COPD -- that diagnosis is easy, requiring only a simple breathing test (spirometry) in your doctor's office, and that treatment can help," Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, NHLBI director, said in a prepared statement.
Treatments such as inhaled bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, and pulmonary rehabilitation help control symptoms and improve exercise capacity. Another treatment, oxygen therapy, may help prolong the life of patients with severe COPD.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about COPD.