COPD rising for Boomers

For Kim Ironmonger, the constant shortness of breath and frequent lung infections were the first clues that something was wrong. “I seemed to have colds all the time that just wouldn’t go away. And my family doctor was quite concerned because at age 39, I was fairly young to be having these kinds of symptoms.”

Testing revealed that Ironmonger had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is more commonly known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

COPD is rising in Canada, especially among younger baby boomers like Ironmonger. According to research by The Canadian Lung Association, one in seven Canadians aged 45 to 49 may currently be living with COPD, and many more may be unaware they even have it.

“People may think that feeling short of breath is a normal sign of aging, but it’s not,” says 51-year-old Ironmonger, who was finally diagnosed at age 40.

COPD symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and frequent lung infections. “If you have any trouble with your breathing, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor and get tested.” COPD is diagnosed by spirometry, a simple test that measures how much air you can hold and move out of your lungs.

The good news is that COPD is treatable. “There are many treatments that will help individuals with COPD. The earlier the diagnosis, the more chance of reducing the longer term effects of the condition. High risk people (smokers over the age of 40 years) should be actively screened, so that COPD can be caught earlier and better managed,” says Dr. Roger Goldstein, a respirologist at West Park Healthcare Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

Early treatment can reduce the decline in lung function and improve quality of life. A recent study published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, found that treatment of COPD should begin at an early stage of the disease to slow it down. “The earlier you are diagnosed and working on managing COPD, the earlier you can learn to do the things you’ve always enjoyed doing,” says Ironmonger.