Just a Smoker's Cough? COPD Blights More Than One Million Lives

14/01/2016 11:52 GMT | Updated 13/01/2017 10:12 GMT

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It's surprising how few people know about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is the name for a collection of debilitating lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema that get progressively worse. Smoking is the main preventable risk factor for COPD and is thought to be responsible for 86% of deaths from the disease.

People with COPD have difficulty breathing, primarily due to the narrowing of the airways and destruction of lung tissue caused by smoking. Smokers often dismiss the early signs of COPD as 'smoker's cough' - yet if people continue smoking the condition worsens and everyday activities such as climbing stairs, housework or gardening can become increasingly difficult.

Despite low awareness, there are large numbers of people with this condition. More than 1 million people are living with COPD in England, with many more likely to be undiagnosed, and around 25,000 people die from the disease each year. In 2013-14, COPD led to more than 113,000 emergency hospital admissions in England.

That's why for this year's January Smokefree campaign Public Health England put the spotlight on COPD. The aim of the campaign is to illustrate the harm that smoking does to health, and encourage smokers to quit for good.

As part of the campaign to highlight the impact of COPD, Joanne, 40, a long-term smoker from Newcastle, joined Olympian Iwan Thomas and three other smokers in an experiment to see what living with severe COPD is like. Joanne had heard of COPD before, but didn't know very much about it.

After wearing a body corset and resistance breathing mask for a day to replicate the struggle for breath and tightness of the lungs and chest caused by COPD, she said: "I wouldn't wish the disease on anyone. I am quitting smoking this January and I would urge anyone else who's a smoker to quit with me."

Support to stop smoking

If quitting smoking is your new year's resolution, there really is a huge range of support out there. Smokefree offers a range of practical and engaging tools including a Smokefree app with a distractions tool to help combat cravings, daily email and text support as well as social media networks.

There's also a free local Stop Smoking Service near you. Studies show that you're up to four times more likely to quit with the support from a local stop smoking service and 9 out of 10 smokers who have used one recommend them. They offer free one-to-one support along with stop smoking medicines, which are available upon prescription.

Many people will also be considering using an e-cigarette to quit and there's more information on these products on the Smokefree website. Where e-cigarettes are most successful in helping people quit is when their use is combined with additional support from a local stop smoking service. Two out of every three smokers who try to quit this way are successful.

Benefits of stopping smoking

Once you stop smoking, your body starts to experience the benefits straight away. Within 20 minutes, your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal and after 8 hours, the nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in your blood reduce by half, and oxygen levels return to normal. After three to nine months lung function increases by up to 10%, and after one year, the risk of dying from heart disease is reduced by half.

As well as gaining these vital improvements to health, most people who give up smoking save around £250 each month - that's nearly £3,000 a year.

I would urge anyone like Joanne, who wants to quit smoking this January, to search Smokefree online for free support. And if you are worried you may be experiencing the symptoms of COPD, make sure you talk to your GP.

Quitting smoking can be tough. It's important to stay positive, ask for support and most importantly, never give up on giving up!