The Pros and Cons of Getting the Flu Shot

Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to the seasonal flu. While for some, influenza is characterized by inconvenient body aches, chills, congestion, cough, and headaches, for others— particularly seniors, young children, and adults living with other health complications, the flu can be deadly. The single best thing that you can do to protect yourself every year from contracting the flu is to get a flu shot. If you have historically been reticent to get the flu shot, perhaps because of misguidance you’ve received about possible risks and side effects, your care team is setting the record straight on the clinically proven pros and cons of obtaining the influenza vaccine.

Pro #1: The flu shot protects your loved ones from getting sick

Perhaps you feel like you’re generally healthy, and when do get sick, it’s mild. For the elderly, children, or immunocompromised relatives, contracting the flu, especially due to the novel coronavirus, could pose a health complication. By obtaining a flu vaccine, you can reduce your risk of contracting the flu, which means you reduce your risk of being a carrier and passing the virus on to someone for whom a flu diagnosis is much more severe. Even if you don’t feel that you need to obtain a flu shot, do it for your family. After all, there is nothing you wouldn’t do for those you love, right?

Con # 1: If you are one of the small percentages of individuals with an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or its ingredients, you could experience an allergic reaction

Overall, the flu shot is overwhelmingly safe and remains the most significant protective measure that you can take to protect yourself from getting sick this flu season. The flu vaccine includes a variety of substances, both naturally occurring and chemically based, which could be allergens for some individuals. There are alternative versions of the flu shot available that exclude certain ingredients that are known allergens for some patients. If you have never had the flu vaccine, but know that you have allergies to some food or chemical-based substances, talk to your doctor about the benefits and possible side effects to understand your options.

Pro # 2: You reduce your risk of time away from work and meaningful activities

People miss seventeen million workdays every year due to the flu, costing businesses $7 billion in lost productivity and incurring $10 billion in medical health care costs, including hospital visits. Regardless of whether or not you are an exempt or non-exempt employee, your company needs you. Obtaining a flu vaccine will reduce your risk of contracting the flu and missing time away from your job. It also protects your co-workers from contracting the flu from you if you unknowingly carry it into the office before you experience symptoms. This safeguard means that your peers can also mitigate their risk of lost productivity and time away from the office.

Con # 2: You might experience some mild discomfort when you obtain the flu vaccine

Such discomfort includes a mild pinch and a burn at the moment of injection and a few days of some muscle soreness. This discomfort, it should be said, pales in comparison to the misery of days spent with a high fever, body aches, chills, congestion, and difficulty breathing.

Final Assessment

In summary, obtaining the flu vaccine protects you and your loved ones from what could become a severe health complication, and keeps you at work and participating in your day-to-day activities. There is a small chance that you might experience an allergic reaction, which your doctor can help you to guard against, and you might experience mild soreness at the injection site for a few days. Overwhelmingly, it’s clear that the pros of obtaining a flu vaccine far outweigh the cons.

Air Quality Safety—What You Need to Know to Stay Safe During the Oregon Wildfires

The devastation caused by ongoing wildfires across Oregon and California is impossible to put into words. Our neighbors and friends have lost their homes, at least 27 people have died, dozens more are missing, our firefighters are putting themselves in constant danger, and—at the time this was written—we still cannot say that we confidently have the blazes contained.

Not only are the wildfires ravaging our pristine lands and destroying our forests, but even individuals miles away are at risk of experiencing health complications due to the poor air quality that the fires are causing to surrounding areas. Everyone in Oregon and California should understand the importance of monitoring air quality reports and how to minimize their risk of respiratory complications related to the smoke and ash polluting our skies.

What is the Air Quality Index?

You might be used to checking the weather report for the day’s temperature and the probability of rain, but until we fully recover from the current wildfires, familiarize yourself with the air quality index (AQI), the daily air quality report that indicates air cleanliness. Like a thermometer, the AQI is based on a low to high scale at a range of 0 to 500. Higher numbers indicate a higher, more dangerous level of pollution in the air. The index ranges are as follows:

  • 0 – 50 Good. Air quality is satisfactory, and pollution poses little to no risk.
  • 51 – 100 Moderate. Air quality is acceptable; however, there may be a moderate health concern due to the presence of some pollutants in the area. People who have a high sensitivity to air pollution might be at risk of health complications.
  • 101 – 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Individuals with health complications, such as asthma, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience health effects.
  • 151 – 200 Unhealthy. Everyone may begin to experience health effects due to poor air quality. Those with existing conditions may experience more severe health effects.
  • 201 – 300 Very Unhealthy. This range constitutes a health alert warning that everyone is at risk of experiencing health effects due to poor air quality.
  • 301 – 500 Hazardous. Noting emergency conditions, the entire population is at risk of severe health issues.

Recently, the AQI across most of Oregon ranged from unhealthy to hazardous, putting millions of people already desperate to protect themselves from COVID-19 at risk of dangerous respiratory complications.

What are the Health Risks of Wildfire Smoke?

As indicated by the AQI, not only does wildfire smoke pose health risks for sensitive populations, but it can create respiratory complications for even healthy individuals. Wildfire smoke is comprised of fine particulate matter, gases such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. Smoky air:

  • Makes it hard for the lungs to carry oxygen to the blood.
  • Can irritate the respiratory system and cause irritated eyes, runny nose, a sore throat, cough, phlegm production, headaches, difficulty breathing, or wheezing.
  • Can cause an immune response that can lead to inflammation.
  • Can increase the risk of some infections such as ear infections in children and pneumonia in older adults.
  • Lower respiratory tract infections.
  • Increase your risk of lung infections, including COVID-19.

Any amount of exposure to smoke in the area can be hazardous, but what is particularly concerning for Oregonians is the threat of smoke exposure several days in a row. If you are exposed to smoky air—even from a distance—and experience notable and severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, cough, chest pain, or heart palpitations, seek immediate emergency care.

To minimize your risk of smoke-related health risks, follow these recommendations from The American Lung Association:

  • Stay indoors. If you live close to a fire-impacted area, remain inside your home unless instructed to evacuate.
  • Don’t exercise outside, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
  • Wear a mask with a filter when outdoors. Talk to your doctor as to which mask is best for you. Traditional dust masks are only designed to filter out large pollution particles. An N-95 or N-100 mask will filter out more pollutants, but they can make it difficult for individuals with lung disease to breathe. They are also not designed for children and may be difficult to find due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Keep children indoors. Young people face additional health risks as their lungs are more susceptible to smoke damage.
  • Drive with your car windows closed, especially in smoky areas. Keep your vents closed and turn on the recirculate air conditioning settings to keep smoke from entering your vehicle.
  • Close home windows. Close your fireplace damper too. Use a clean air conditioning system and purifier if possible.
  • Evacuate if instructed. If your public health officials advise you to evacuate, do so without hesitation.

If you have questions about your health risks as our community continues to battle this season’s wildfires, make a telemedicine appointment to speak with one of our care providers.

Understanding Epilepsy – What to Do If Someone You Love Has a Seizure

Witnessing a seizure can be a frightening experience, yet for the 3 million adults and the 470,000 children in the United States who live with epilepsy, it’s a possibility that could strike without warning at any time. About one in ten people will have a seizure during their lifetime, which means the threat is real for all of us. Some of the most common causes of epilepsy include stroke, a brain tumor, a brain infection caused by a parasite, a traumatic brain injury, loss of oxygen to the brain, some genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, and other neurologic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. If someone in your life has been diagnosed with epilepsy or is at risk of experiencing a seizure at any time, prepare yourself to aid your loved one and protect both you and them by familiarizing yourself with the best practices for assisting someone having a seizure.

What is Epilepsy?

Sometimes referred to as seizure disorder, epilepsy is a brain disorder. A doctor might diagnose a patient who has had two or more seizures in their lifetime as having epilepsy.

What is a Seizure?

A seizure is a brief change in regular brain activity. In some cases, a patient may appear to be staring intently without other movement or response. In more disturbing situations, a patient may collapse to the grown, become disoriented, and physically shake or convulse.

Are Seizures Dangerous?

In most cases, a seizure will end on its own and will not cause any severe health issues. One of the most significant risks that seizures pose is that the patient may injure themselves falling or convulsing. They might also cause an accident if they experience a seizure while operating a motor vehicle, or could be at risk of drowning if they have an episode while swimming or in the bath. They might also experience other medical complications, and in the most severe cases, they might experience a life-threatening emergency. For example, they could choke on vomit or other fluids during a seizure if they collapse on their back.

A seizure might also cause loss of life if it lasts more than five minutes—a condition called status epilepticus, tonic-clonic status epilepticus, tonic-clonic seizure, or a grand mal seizure—or they experience multiple episodes one after another. Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is the most common cause of death for people with seizures. While uncommon, SUDEP is a dangerous possibility, and all those with epilepsy—and their loved ones—should treat every epileptic episode with precaution.

What to Do When Someone is Having a Seizure

If someone in your life is at risk of seizures, and you are present when they experience one, remain calm. Call 911 if any of the following potentially life-threatening events occurs:

  • It is the individual’s first seizure
  • They are having difficulty breathing or waking up after the event
  • The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
  • They have another seizure soon after the first
  • They become injured during the seizure
  • It occurs in water
  • The person has another health condition that could cause a complication, such as heart disease or diabetes, or they are pregnant

In addition to calling emergency responders if necessary, you can assist someone having a seizure by doing the following:

  • If they are experiencing a grand mal seizure, ease them to the floor and turn them onto their side to help them breathe and to prevent choking on fluids
  • Clear the area around the person to ensure it is free of anything dangerous, sharp, or hard that could injure them during convulsions
  • Put something soft under their head to prevent a head injury
  • Remove eyeglasses if necessary
  • Loosen anything that might be restrictive from around their neck such as jewelry or scarves
  • Stay with them until the seizure ends, and they wake up
  • When they can communicate, seat them in a safe place and calmly communicate what occurred
  • Be comforting and calming
  • Take them home if needed once you can safely transport them

What Not to Do When Someone is Having a Seizure

If you are present when someone you love has a seizure, do not do any of the following, which could put yourself or them in further danger:

  • Do not attempt to hold them down
  • Do not put anything in their mouth in an attempt to prevent choking, as it might injure their jaw or teeth
  • Do not try to administer CPR; if the patient does not resume breathing on their own when the seizure ends, call 911
  • Do not offer them food or water until they are fully recovered and alert

In many cases, seizures are more frightening than they are deadly. Still, practice all proper precautions and get help when necessary to help minimize your loved one’s chances of a dangerous health complication. If you believe that you or someone you love might have epilepsy, talk to your doctor. Do not wait for a potentially perilous life event to get help.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, Recognizing Signs & Symptoms in Your Aging Parent

Memory is powerful. As beings with limited time, every moment is precious, and storing the moments that have filled up our years is a gift and a treasure. For those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, the confusion and pain that accompanies a loss of memory are frightening and disorienting. For those left watching a parent or family member begin to slowly disassociate from the life they knew—the life that they can no longer remember—the experience is equally terrifying and devastating. The world recognizes every September as Alzheimer’s month. It is a time to bring awareness to this devastating disease and hope that one day, we might find a cure. If you suspect that a parent, spouse, or loved one in your life might be starting to experience the signs of Alzheimer’s talk to a doctor and ask for help.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive condition that destroys memory and other critical mental functions when brain cell connections and their accompanying cells breakdown and die. In Alzheimer’s patients, high levels of specific proteins that exist inside and outside of brain cells become weak or damaged. Often, the first brain cells to be affected are those in the hippocampus, the brain’s center of learning and memory.

Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia

As two conditions that are often spoken about in tandem, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, though similar, are not the same condition. Dementia is a general term for symptoms associated with the decline in memory, reasoning, and other critical processing skills. Alzheimer’ is a specific brain disease that causes about 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. In addition to Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia may be caused by damage to brain cells. Depending on the area of the brain in which cells have been damaged, the resulting symptoms may vary.

Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia in which damage to the vessels that supply blood to the brain, cause problem-solving, slowed thinking, focus, and organization issues. Lewy body dementia is marked by abnormal, balloon-like clumps of protein that appear in the brain, causing a patient to act out their dreams in their sleep, experience visual hallucinations, and have attention and focus problems.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

For Alzheimer’s Disease, specifically, some of the most common early symptoms may include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily responsibilities
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Struggling to find the right word
  • Misplacing belongings or not remembering where one left an item and further, not remembering the last time the item was in their possession
  • Challenges in completing everyday tasks
  • Confusion related to time and place, losing track of days, seasons, and minutes in the day
  • Difficulty assessing visual images and spatial relationships, which may cause balance issues, trouble reading, or challenges judging distance, which can make driving difficult if not impossible
  • Decreased problem-solving skills or judgment
  • Social reticence, difficulty having conversations, and ultimately withdrawing from social situations
  • Personality or mood changes, specifically in which one becomes confused, depressed, anxious, or scared

When and How to Get Help with a Loved One Experiencing Early Signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

If you believe that someone in your life might be experiencing the symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, talk to a doctor. An early diagnosis can ensure you have the support you need as a caregiver to help protect your loved one and keep them safe and comfortable as their condition progresses. While a doctor might prescribe the patient medication to help treat the symptoms of their disease, the primary symptoms of Alzheimer’s—particularly confusion and memory loss—will progress over time. By ensuring that both you and your loved one have the support you need, you can maximize your quality time together so that you will always have warm, wonderful memories on which to reflect.

Is it Safe to Get the Flu Shot?

Influenza is a dangerous respiratory infection that takes the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. Still, many people question if obtaining a flu vaccine can put them at a higher risk than they might face if they attempt to battle the seasonal flu. While a small percentage of the population might be at risk of mild side effects, the flu shot is overwhelmingly safe and remains the most significant protective measure that you can take to protect yourself from getting sick this flu season.

Who Might be at Risk of Side Effects from the Flu Shot?

For the majority of individuals, the flu shot is extremely safe. Research repeatedly indicates that the vaccine, and its ingredients, are not likely to cause harm. Those who should not obtain the flu vaccine, however, include two small population segments:

  • Children under six months of age
  • Individuals who have reacted to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients

What’s in the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine includes a variety of substances, both naturally occurring and chemically based, which could be allergens for some individuals. While some of the ingredients that follow may seem concerning, health organizations routinely verify that there are no indications that the substances, as used in the flu vaccine, put the majority of recipients at direct risk.

The flu shot contains:
  • Killed strains of the flu vaccine or weakened live strains (LAIV) dispensed through a nasal spray.
  • Egg protein, which is the result of growing the virus inside fertilized chicken eggs. An alternative version of the vaccine is produced in animal cells.
  • The preservative thimerosal, which is typically added to multidose vaccine vials and contains mercury, which is only toxic in large doses. An alternative, thimerosal-free vaccine version is available.
  • The stabilizers sucrose, sorbitol, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). While some individuals are sensitive to MSG, the small amount in the flu vaccine is not likely to cause issues for more people.
  • Antibiotics such as neomycin and gentamicin.
  • The emulsifier polysorbate 80, which can be reactive for some in large doses, though the amount in the vaccine is tiny.
  • Formaldehyde, a natural compound, which is a gas soluble in water. While exposure in large doses can cause certain types of cancer, breathing difficulties, and eye and throat irritation, the CDC reports that the formaldehyde used in the flu vaccine is removed before packaging and distribution. The U.S Food and Drug Administration further says that any trace amounts in the vaccine are lower than the naturally occurring levels in the human body and do not pose a safety concern to vaccine recipients. Further, no evidence links the formaldehyde in the flu vaccine to cancer.

Can the Flu Vaccine Give You the Flu?

Some individuals’ most significant concern regarding the flu vaccine is that receiving it will cause virus contagion. While some people might experience mild flu-like symptoms after receiving the vaccine, obtaining the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu illness.

The CDC reaffirms every year that obtaining the flu shot is the best way to prevent contagion and to mitigate your risk of spreading it to others—including your loved ones. This flu season, with COVID-19 still threatening the population, talk to your doctor about your risks and whether you should obtain the vaccine. Your doctor will help you determine which version of the vaccine will be safest for you and help you stay protected from this dangerous seasonal illness.

Nova Health Will Soon Open a New Urgent Care Clinic in North Bend

Eugene, Ore. – August 24, 2020 Nova Health, a comprehensive provider of quality urgent care, primary care, physical therapy, and musculoskeletal services in Oregon and Montana, has announced the opening of a new urgent care clinic. The facility is located at 1226 Virginia Ave, North Bend, Oregon and will accept scheduled appointments and walk-ins Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The clinic will begin accepting patients the beginning of October.

According to Nova Health Chief Executive Officer Jim Ashby, it is more important than ever for families to have easy access to trusted urgent care facilities.

“So much has changed in our world over the past five months,” said Ashby. “Through it all, we have strived to be a consistent, trustworthy provider of quality healthcare for individuals in the communities we serve. We are pleased to offer another convenient location where our patients can obtain safe, immediate care for their urgent illnesses and injuries.

In addition to its newest urgent care clinic—its seventeenth in Oregon—Nova Health is pleased to announce the addition of Amy Hinshaw, FPN, who will be providing care for patients at the new North Bend clinic exclusively. Hinshaw has over ten years of surgery and trauma critical care experience and more than three years of primary care experience with a focus on complex chronic disease management. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes Jewish College in St. Louis, MO, in 2010 and a Master of Science Degree in Nursing from Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Amy brings our clinic the ideal mixture of compassion, knowledge, and collaboration,” said Nova Health Medical Director of Urgent Care Services Dr. Marc Schnapper. “We are excited to welcome her to our community and our organization. We are confident that our patients will quickly welcome Amy into their trusted healthcare advisory team.”

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and Am I at Risk?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is often associated with leg pain and swelling; however, it can cause more severe health risks, disability, and in the most severe cases, it can be fatal. It is also known as thromboembolism, post-thrombotic syndrome, and postphlebitic syndrome. Since anyone can develop this condition during their lifetime, and sometimes not exhibit obvious symptoms, it is crucial to understand what DVT is and what may put you at risk of this dangerous condition.

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

A thrombus is a blood clot. A blood clot can form when blood moves too slowly through your veins, and a group of blood cells clump together and form a solid. When a blood clot forms within one or more of the deep veins in your body, it is called deep vein thrombosis. Such clots often occur in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis; however, DVT can occur in other parts of the body, such as the arm.

What are the Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Only about half of patients with DVT experience any symptoms. DVT in the leg can cause:

  • Leg pain, cramping, or tenderness that may start in the calf and can feel like general soreness or cramping
  • Swelling in the foot, ankle, or leg, typically on one side
  • Warmth and tenderness over the vein
  • Skin that appears pale, red or blue

Upper extremity DVT, such as in the arm, can cause:

  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Swelling in the hand or arm
  • Hand weakness
  • Blue tinged skin
  • Pain that travels from the arm to the forearm

Risk Factors for Deep Vein Thrombosis

Some of the factors that may increase your risk of developing DVT include immobility, pregnancy, and some hormone therapies. Patients confined to a bed during an illness or after an injury, are also at risk.

Complications of Deep Vein Thrombosis

If a blood clot causes the vein to swell, the condition is called thrombophlebitis. Approximately 33 to 50 percent of DVT patients experience long-term complications when a blood clot damages the valves in the vein. This condition is called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). PTS symptoms include swelling, pain, and discoloration. In severe cases, PTS can cause scaling or ulcers in the affected body part, and in the most severe cases, the patient can become disabled.

If the clot breaks loose and travels into the lungs, it can block an artery and cause a severe health risk called a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Raised heart rate
  • Chest pain that exacerbates upon taking a deep breath
  • Coughing up blood

Treatment Options for DVT and When to Get Help

Treatment for DVT may include medicine to mitigate the pain and inflammation symptoms, break up clots, and keep new clots from forming. Your doctor might also recommend that you frequently raise the affected area and apply moist heat. Patients with DVT who must take a long trip by car or plane are encouraged to walk or stretch as frequently as possible and stay hydrated.

If you are experiencing pain and discomfort, particularly in your lower leg, and you believe that you might be suffering from DVT, make an appointment with your doctor today. Also, contact your physician if you think that you are experiencing symptoms associated with a pulmonary embolism.

Why Should I Get The Flu Shot?

You know it’s happening the second you feel the muscle aches and bone-numbing fatigue throughout your body. Then you feel a shiver, even though your forehead is beading with sweat—the flu. COVID-19 might still be at the top of everyone’s health risk radar, but influenza affects anywhere from five to 20 percent of the U.S. population every year, resulting in 31.4 million outpatient healthcare visits and tragically causing 58 percent of the deaths of adults over age 65. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk, since the best preventive measure that you can take to mitigate your risk of contracting the flu is to get a flu shot.

What is the Flu?

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can affect the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs, resulting in mild to severe symptoms. In its most serious cases, it can result in death, particularly among immunocompromised individuals. Like COVID-19, the flu is an airborne illness that spreads from person to person through tiny droplets created by coughing, sneezing, or talking. The virus can spread to others up to six feet away. You are most contagious when you have the flu within the first three to four days.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms can come on rapidly and often include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffed nose
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (typically more common in children)

In most cases, recovery takes anywhere from a few days to less than two weeks. In more severe cases, however, particularly for children, seniors, and immunocompromised adults, the flu can evolve into a more dangerous condition, such as pneumonia.

How Does the Flu Shot Work?

Myth: If you get the flu vaccine, you will get influenza. This misconception is the reason many people cite for not protecting themselves by getting the flu vaccine each year. You may even know someone who will tell you that they had flu symptoms after getting the vaccine; however, the reason for such symptoms may include:

  • A slight reaction to the vaccine that includes temporary muscle aches and fever
  • Exposure to the flu before the vaccine can take effect—which takes two weeks
  • Experiencing symptoms of another illness, such as a cold

How Effective is the Flu Shot?

There are several influenza virus strains. Each year, doctors and scientists create the year’s vaccine based on the strain that they anticipate being most prevalent. If you obtain the flu vaccine but are exposed to an alternate strain, you may still get the flu. This challenge of protecting the population from every possible flu strain is part of the reason why some people continue to spread the misunderstanding that getting the flu vaccine will not protect you from getting sick. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 and 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.”

When Should I Get the Flu Vaccine?

Flu season is approaching rapidly. As you remain hypervigilant about the risk of COVID-19, do not forget to get your flu shot. Flu season happens from fall to winter, with peak activity between December and February, though it can last until May. Healthcare providers recommend obtaining the flu vaccine by late October to ensure you are protected for the vast majority of the season. If you are still uncertain about getting the flu vaccine, know that by obtaining a vaccination, you not only protect yourself, but you protect the friends and loved ones around you who are susceptible to virus spread if you get sick.

How to Get a Flu Shot

To protect yourself against the flu this year, make a same-day appointment or walk into a Nova Health clinic to obtain a flu shot. Find a location near you.

COPD Signs, Symptoms, and Common Causes

More than 16.4 million Americans live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of progressive lung diseases that leave their victims feeling as though they are slowly and uncomfortably being deprived of vital oxygen. COPD is the third leading cause of death by disease among Americans, and in many cases, it is preventable. If you are a smoker, or you know that your lifestyle has made you susceptible to this frightening disease, make today the day that you better understand the condition, and then take the first steps to wellness by getting help from your doctor.

What Is COPD?

The most common lung diseases that comprise chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are chronic bronchitis and chronic emphysema.

  • Emphysema affects the air sacs in the lungs and the walls between them, making them less elastic over time
  • Chronic bronchitis causes the lining of the airways to be regularly inflamed and irritated, which causes the lining to swell and produce a slimy mucus

Most COPD patients have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the severity of which varies for each. Generally, with COPD, due to the inflammation and tissue damage, the vital tissues that exchange oxygen become damaged and unable to work correctly. As a result, there is a decrease in the flow of air in and out of the lungs. With less oxygen passing into the body’s tissues, it becomes equally challenging for the body to rid itself of carbon dioxide.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

As COPD worsens, patients describe feeling general shortness of breath, which makes it challenging to be active. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Cough
  • Mucus production
  • Chest tightness

Causes of COPD

COPD is often caused by long-term exposure to particulate matter or irritating gasses that damage the lungs. In most cases, the cause of COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. Of the 25 percent of COPD sufferers who never smoked, their conditions are most often caused by long-term exposure to such irritants as chemical fumes, dust, and air pollution. Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency, a rare genetic condition, can also cause COPD.

In addition to lifestyle factors and chemical exposure, risk factors that can increase your chance of developing COPD include:

  • Age –  Most COPD diagnoses occur in individuals who are at least 40 years old
  • Genetics – Smokers with a family history of COPD are more likely also to develop the disease in their lifetime

COPD Complications

Patients with COPD are at an increased risk of other health complications and disorders, particularly heart disease and lung cancer. Some individuals with COPD may also develop frequent respiratory infections, such as colds and the flu. In severe cases, COPD can cause weight loss, lower muscle weakness, and lower body joint swelling.

Preventing COPD

If you smoke, it is never too late to quit and begin minimizing your risk of developing COPD. Quitting at any age will enhance your health, no matter how long you have smoked. Consider these facts:

  • Two weeks to three months after quitting smoking, your risk of heart attack drops
  • One to nine months after quitting, you’ll experience less shortness of breath and cough less
  • One year after quitting, your risk of heart disease will reduce by half
  • Five years after quitting, your risk of stroke decreases
  • Ten years after quitting, your risk of lung cancer drops to equal that of someone who’s never smoked
  • Fifteen years after quitting, you risk of heart disease drops to equal that of someone who has never smoked

If you are ready to quit smoking, talk to your doctor, or use the resources available from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When to Get Help

If you are or have been a smoker or your work or lifestyle has left you exposed to chemical pollutants, and you believe you are experiencing signs of COPD, talk to your doctor. They can provide a diagnosis using imaging, blood, and lung function tests. Once the extent of your condition is confirmed, your doctor will work with you to establish a treatment plan and help maximize your capable activity levels and your lifestyle.

What is a Primary Care Provider (PCP) and Why You Should Get One

Think of that one person in your life who you can always rely on for help, guidance, and support? Maybe it’s a friend, a spouse, or a sibling. They are the person who you always go to first whenever you have a problem because they have an incomparable ability to understand your issue and guide you in the right direction to find a resolution. The relationship you have with this person is critical to your overall health and happiness, and you can’t imagine your life without them.

That’s what it means to have a dedicated primary care provider (PCP)
as part of your compassionate care team.

What is a PCP?

A PCP is a generalist in the field of medicine who can diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, such as respiratory infections, back pain, headaches, and the cold and flu. They have expertise in managing multiple conditions, medications, and their interactions and potential complications. They are also knowledgeable about certain common chronic diseases and disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Your PCP is the health care provider that you should see on a routine basis for well exams. By visiting your PCP consistently, they will help you monitor any variations in your wellness that might be an indication of the onset of a more severe condition. Also, like your best friend, over time, your PCP will have the advantage of knowing your health history, which is crucial in offering a holistic level of care. Nova Health provider Karrie Patterson, PA-C, said it best when she said, “I love listening and being a consistent and positive presence in a patient’s life. I love providing care for an entire family and becoming a part of their lives.”

Just like the best friend that you turn to when you have a problem and aren’t sure how to handle it, think of your PCP as your sounding board and jumping-off point for any health-related concern. In many cases, your PCP will be able to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan, which might include prescription medication or therapy. In those instances where your health care needs are more complex or specialized, or you are experiencing severe symptoms that might be related to a more concerning, possibly life-threatening condition, your PCP will likely recommend that you see a specialist. Examples of such concerns include cancer, a dangerous autoimmune disorder, or the need to treat an injury with surgery.

 

The Benefit of Collaboration

The benefit of starting conversations with your PCP, even if ultimately, they cannot directly treat your condition, is that they can guide you to the right specialist, one that is trusted and with whom they frequently collaborate. Together, your PCP and the referred specialist broaden your healthcare team and work together to help you reach the best possible outcome. Think of your PCP and the specialist as your reliable best friend referring you to someone they know and trust, such as a lawyer, a contractor, or a personal trainer. There are comfort and security in working with someone vouched for by an existing ally, and when it comes to your health, every provider you work with must be someone with whom you feel relaxed confident.

 

How to Obtain a PCP

If you need a PCP—an ally in your corner to help guide your lifelong healthcare strategy, contact the compassionate care team at Nova Health. Our physicians across our 17 locations are accepting new patients—both in person and via telemedicine. Meet our team, or find a convenient location near you.