NIH: We are on the Cusp of a Big Transformation on How We Treat COPD

Elderly Man Using Nebulizer

BETHESDA, MD - The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is making some major headway in the area of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

With more than 16 million Americans suffering from COPD, the disease is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Program Officer Dr. Antonello Punturieri at NHLBI says it's even more concerning that millions of Americans may have it, but haven’t been diagnosed.

Also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, COPD makes it hard to breath.It’s a disease that creeps up on you,” Punturieri told 104.7 WONK FM’s Jen Richer. “Maybe you think it’s just because and so you can’t [do your daily activities] as fast, you can’t climb a flight of stairs, so you postpone some chores, and so on, but unfortunately it’s because it’s hard to breathe.”

The common risk factors for the disease include a history of smoking and other environmental factors that may irritate the lungs. But NHLBI is also finding certain genetic conditions could also contribute to the risk, such as a deficiency of alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT).

Common Symptoms of COPD:

  • An ongoing (frequent cough)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest Tightness

The main way to diagnose COPD is through a simple breathing test known as spirometry, which measures how much air a patient breaths in and how fast he or she breathes it out.

Although there currently is no cure for COPD, there are treatments available. Lifestyle changes and treatments can help those suffering from the disease, and slow its progress.

“There are a lot of medications and therapies that can improve the disease, but, like with many diseases, there is not one pill that cures it all,” Punturieri explains.

The scientists at NHLBI are working to find better treatments and ultimately cure the disease.

“I think we are at a turning point. We have invested heavily in researching the disease, not only trying to understand it in minimal detail…and so I think we are at the cusp of a big transformation in terms of how it’s diagnosed and how it’s treated,” Punturieri said.

For more information on COPD and the work at NHLBI visit:

Listen to the full interview here:

Jen Richer with Dr. Antonello Punturieri

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