Patients with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) often have flare-ups of their disease. We call these flare-ups exacerbations, and they are characterized by changes is the usual symptoms seen by these patients. Patients having an exacerbation will experience an increase in their shortness of breath, usually with increased cough and mucous production. They may or may not have fever or additional wheezing.
Taking action when these flare-ups occur is extremely important. It has been said that an exacerbation is to COPD what a heart attack is to coronary artery disease. In other words, this is a serious event and should be taken seriously. I propose that we call these “Lung Attacks” to try and convey the serious nature of these events. Lung Attacks are responsible for most of the sickness, death and cost in COPD patients.
Those of you who follow at the Lung Disease Center are told to call the office if you are having worsening of symptoms. Nationally, surveys suggest that almost 76% of exacerbations are not reported. This is crazy when you consider that recovery from a significant Lung Attack can take upwards of 90 days (that’s 3 months!) Usually, lung function takes a nose dive during the attack and may not return to baseline even after 3 months. Patients with the most frequent exacerbations have a worse long term outlook then their healthier counterparts. Remember if you are having a LUNG ATTACK you should seek help early. Your life depends on it!