Students form COPD support group

Aug 13 2013 - 1:11am

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OGDEN -- Two Weber State University respiratory therapy students have formed a support group designed to educate and help those who have chronic obstructive lung disease.

Partners in COPD -- Helping the Community Through Education and Support meets from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at McKay-Dee Hospital and is open to the public.

"Last April, Weber State hosted the annual Utah Society of Respiratory Care Conference, which is mandatory for all Weber State respiratory therapy students to attend," said Michelle Williams, one of the two student developers. "During the conference, Dr. Michael Galindo spoke on the importance of respiratory therapy in reference to palliative care. During his presentation, he said, 'You know, it would be cool for someone to start a COPD support group.' Those words resonated with Elizabeth and me for months."

Earlier this summer, Elizabeth Wilson and Williams discussed the possibility and organized the group, hoping it will improve the lives of others through the knowledge and understanding they have gained during their time in the respiratory therapy program.

COPD includes a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make breathing difficult, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some of the most common conditions are chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema and cystic fibrosis. In some cases, smoking is the main cause. Other causes include extensive exposures to coal dust or genetic predisposition.

"COPD is a prevalent disease in nearly every community in the United States, including our own," Wilson said. "It is the third leading cause of death in America and costs the patient and the health care system billions of dollars a year. There are an estimated 15 million people in America diagnosed with COPD and another estimated 15 million undiagnosed and living with COPD."

Statistics show admissions and readmissions to the hospital are increasing for COPD patients and are not anticipated to decrease as the aging population grows. With the large anticipated numbers of hospital admissions for patients with COPD, Williams and Wilson said they find it pertinent to educate those with COPD and their families about simple tasks and preventive measures they can actively participate in during their daily routine to help dramatically reduce the incidence of COPD flare ups or other exacerbations.

"COPD is a complex diagnosis. Although it is a diagnosis of the lungs, it affects nearly every aspect of the human body due to the lack of oxygen being passed to the tissues," Williams said.

Wilson said the first symptom of COPD is often shortness of breath. Many people go years without ever seeing the doctor and many not find out they have the disease until it forces them to go to the emergency room.

Other symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, clearing your throat in the morning to remove excess mucus in the lungs, a chronic cough that produces sputum, fatigue, unintended weight loss and blueness of the lips and fingernails.

While there is no cure for COPD, there are some ways to help, Williams and Wilson said. Smoking cessation is the most important factor; taking medications prescribed; exercising indoors, especially on bad air days; eating healthy meals and washing your hands frequently can all help.

The support group will have professional speakers and will provide tricks on stress management, proper diet and exercise, helpful breathing techniques, understanding how and why to use medications, community resources to aid in diagnosis, how to avoid secondary infections and what to expect at the doctor's office.

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