SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.
Health experts with UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's said about 15% of the U.S. population has an active nicotine dependence. More than 70% of those people will get COPD and more than half of those will go undiagnosed.
"When they lose lung function, it's very hard for them to get that back," said Dr. Sandeep Gupta, a UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's pulmonologist. "So once that damage already happens in the lungs, you cannot go back in time to repair that."
Sixteen million Americans are living with COPD according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Sandeep says COPD is caused by slow damage to the breathing tubes and the lung tissue.
"Most likely in the United States, it's related to nicotine exposure in the form of cigarette smoking," said Dr. Gupta. "It could be because of cigars, and these days over the last couple of years with the increased prevalence of vaping."
Dr. Gupta says COPD can also develop in people who have long-standing asthma but don't have good control of it. To test for it, Dr. Gupta says they'll do a pulmonary function test.
"And we look at, what is the lung capacity?" said Dr. Gupta. "Are they able to take deep breaths and blow that air out and if they are able to do that in an appropriate number of times, then we gauge and look at the lung function."
They look to see if the results match their age, height, and weight. While there is no cure, doctors can treat it.
"We can tailor all of the therapy to get that patient better and to not progress," said Dr. Gupta.
If caught early that treatment can include inhalers. But, if it becomes more severe, doctors will send patients to a pulmonary rehab to learn exercises and techniques to improve lung function.
To help prevent COPD, Dr. Gupta recommends following a good lifestyle and quitting all forms of nicotine. He also says to seek medical care as soon as you start to feel short of breath or if there is a history of COPD.