Smoking Propels Arkansas & Louisiana Further Atop COPD Rankings
Arkansas and Louisiana are both among the top eleven states with the highest prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD. Smoking is getting most of the blame.
Arkansas and Louisiana make another dubious list in state health rankings. They are both among the top eleven states with the highest prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD. The American Lung Association recently released its state rankings for the year. COPD refers to a group of diseases which include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD makes breathing difficult for the sixteen million Americans afflicted with the potentially debilitating lung disease. Millions more people suffer from COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but lack a diagnosis and thus go untreated.
The national average for COPD prevalence stands at five percent. But Louisiana far exceeds that level, standing at 8.7%. That rate is up three-tenths of a point from when Louisiana ranked sixth nationally by U.S. News & World Report in July 2019. Arkansas ranks nearly a full percentage point higher at 9.6% in the latest rankings by the ALA. Arkansas’ COPD rate also increased three tenths of a percent since the U.S. News rankings four years earlier, with Arkansas having the fourth highest prevalence of COPD nationally.
Dr. Bobby Mahajan, with the ALA explains why the states rank so high. “A lot of that is stemming from the fact that there’s a higher smoking incidence. I mean, really the driving force behind the development of COPD is smoking. And what we try to focus on not initially only the number but making people educated about the fact that the prevalence is high and talk to them about what options they have in terms of treatment and also smoking cessation as well.” The ALA urges people who suffer from the symptoms of COPD to seek a diagnosis. Symptoms typically include a persistent cough, shortness of breath and chest tightness or heaviness, along with wheezing or whistling.
There is no cure for COPD, but treatment can often improve a patient’s outcome. Dr. Mahajan tells us about a variety of treatment options for COPD which are available these days. One example is the use of an inhaler to improve shortness of breath. Dr. Bobby Mahajan added, “one of the main things that we use and especially that has improvement in survival is pulmonary rehabilitation, where we get people’s breathing muscles much stronger, so they have less shortness of breath.”
Mahajan says pulmonary therapy employs anaerobic resistance training which requires short, sudden bursts of energy. This kind of therapy strengthens a person’s chest muscles, their diaphragm muscles, and their neck muscles, “because what happens with COPD is that their diaphragm, which is their main breathing muscle is not functioning as well because of the injury that occurs to the lung. So, what we have to do is strengthen the other muscles in the chest and by strengthening those muscles in the chest a person can breathe easier and they don’t feel as short of breath.”
The ALA cites research showing the people most likely to suffer worse outcomes and barriers to treatment include people living in rural areas, along with lower income and educational levels.
Dr. Mahajan says lowering the prevalence of COPD begins with a focus on smoking cessation. “I mean that we provide more resources for people to quit smoking, in addition to improving awareness so that people do not start smoking. We’re going to see better improvement down the road with regards to the incidence of COPD in people living in Louisiana,” and in Arkansas.