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    Above the Waist

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | November 27th, 2022

    Above the Waist

    As an OB/GYN, I typically stay below the waist, but I decided to make an exception and talk about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a disease above the waist. COPD is a long-term lung disease that affects millions of Americans. November is National COPD Awareness month.

    Here are some facts:

    • COPD is a lung disease where less air flows in and out of the airways in the long, making it hard to breathe.  
    • COPD is a progressive disease which means it gets worse over time.
    • COPD is a significant cause of disability and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.
    • More women than men have been diagnosed with COPD in the past decade, and over the past 20 years, more women have died from it.
    • Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized.
    • 80% of people with COPD who have never smoked are women.
    • Risks factors for COPD include:
    • Age over 40
    • History of smoking
    • Rare genetic condition – alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency
    • Long-term exposure to lung irritants such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust from the environment or workplace
    • Common symptoms include:
      • Constant cough
      • Shortness of breath doing everyday activities    
      • Excess sputum
      • Wheezing
    • Diagnosis is based on your symptoms, personal and medical history, lung function tests, and spirometry results.

    Five steps to reduce your risk of COPD

    1. Do not smoke
    2. Avoid pollutants – workplaces like nail salons, hair salons, or dry cleaners can expose you to harmful chemicals. It is important to talk with your employer about ways to limit exposure.
    3. Stay current on your vaccines – Get vaccinated against the flu, pneumococcal disease, and COVID-19.
    4. Talk to your doctor about COPD – If you suspect you may have COPD or have any of the symptoms discussed above, talk with your healthcare provider. This should be your primary care practitioner.
    5. Learn more about the Learn More Breathe Better® program

    As I mentioned, this is not my area of expertise; however, when you have a disease affecting women significantly, it is important to be aware. All the information provided is from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Please check out their website for more information on COPD, especially treatment.

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    With her trademark wit and straightforward communication, Dr. Osuagwu continues to dole out valuable medical advice using the letter form and addressing women’s health conditions and issues in a method that was praised for its innovative approach in her earlier award-winning book, Letters to My Sisters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice from a Gynecologist. In this book, each letter is paired with reference sources and statistics about the condition that is the subject of the letter.

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    The book discusses common gynecological and women’s health issues in a series of witty and entertaining letters. These letters, all educational, offer suggestions on what approaches to take in tackling the medical problems that typically bring women to an ob/gynecologist. The letters are spiced with art, a poem and quotes. Although its emphasis is on gynecology and women’s health, it touches on some other medical issues that make women visit their doctors.

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