It’s Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an enduring lung disease that makes it hard to breathe.  The disease is increasingly common, affecting millions of Americans, causing serious long-term disability and is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.  The good news is COPD is often preventable and treatable.

About 85 to 90 percent of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking.  When a cigarette burns, it creates more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful.  The toxins in cigarette smoke weaken your lungs’ defense against infections, narrow air passages, cause swelling in air tubes and destroy air sacs; all contributing factors for COPD.

If you’re like most smokers who have tried to quit, you may have tried unsuccessfully several times.  But you can try again and succeed. When did the relapse start and what caused it?  Once you understand why it happened, you can begin to consider ways to get back on track.  Here are some tips steps to successfully quite smoking.

  • Realize this is an emergency situation.  Stop smoking and dispose of all cigarettes immediately!
  • Make a list of coping strategies that work for you, forget about those that didn’t work for you in the past.
  • Review your list of reasons for wanting to quit whenever you feel you’re slipping back into your old habit.  
  • Call a quit smoking hotline for encouragement.  Research has shown that such hotlines really do help people quit.  If you would like help, call 866-NJSTOPS to speak to a counselor.

The key to coping with smoking urges is to plan ahead, so that wherever you are, you’ll have something to do instead of smoking.  For example, whenever you want a cigarette, try the four D’s; delay: the urge to smoke will pass whether you light up or not; deep breathe; drink water, and do something to take your mind off smoking.

COPD includes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema.  Most individuals with COPD have a little bit of both, but have a predominance of one or the other. As part of a COPD diagnosis, your doctor will ask questions about your family history with respiratory illnesses, your symptoms and the medicines you use, and ask questions about your lifestyle. He or she will conduct a physical exam and order some laboratory tests to diagnose and assess the severity of your COPD.

Once COPD has been diagnosed, you and your doctor can select the best treatment options to manage your breathing.  These may include medications, rehabilitation, or surgery that may improve your quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to improve lung function, reduce symptom severity, and improve quality of life.  Many people who successfully stop smoking and complete pulmonary rehabilitation can also succeed in breathing easier and return to activities they enjoyed prior to suffering from COPD. It’s never too late to quit smoking.

Registered Respiratory Therapist Helen Marra is coordinator of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center-Old Bridge.  The outpatient program provides patients with personalized treatment plans that include self-care education, physical reconditioning, and maintenance planning.  If you struggle with COPD or another condition causing shortness of breath, ask your doctor if you could benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, then call 732-360-4290 to make an appointment.

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