Feb 27, 2015 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell


“Star Trek” legend Leonard Nimoy once described himself as an “Olympic championship smoker.” When he was diagnosed with Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease last year it had been 30 years since his last cigarette, but the damage had already been done.  This morning he succumbed to the disease at his home in Southern California. “Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease or COPD is a lung disease that usually a consequence of cigarette smoking and that involves air flow obstruction, “ says Robert Paine, MD, the chief of the Division of Pulmonary Medicine for University of Utah Health. “Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are conditions that fall under the COPD umbrella and that often overlap.”

Nimoy first disclosed his condition one year ago, after he was photographed with an oxygen tank. Paine says that while oxygen therapy is needed in some cases, the best treatment is to prevent any further damage to the lungs. “Treatments include inhalers, and vaccinations for flu and pneumonia,” he says. “COPD makes patients more susceptible to pneumonia or even to heart disease.”

In his final year Nimoy urged people who are still smoking to quit, and hopefully avoid the same fate. He used Twitter as a platform, writing “Smokers, please understand. If you quit after you're diagnosed with lung damage it's too late. Grandpa says learn my lesson. Quit now.” “Stopping smoking is the most important intervention both to prevent COPD and to improve the situation for those who already have the disease,” says Paine. It’s also important to get the proper medical help. “COPD is a chronic condition that often can be managed for years,” Paine says.

If you are, or were, a smoker, be alert for the symptoms of COPD. “The most common symptoms are cough (often with sputum) and shortness of breath, especially with exercise,” says Paine. “In advanced disease people may be short of breath even at rest.” See a doctor if you think you may need to be treated to ensure, like Nimoy would have wanted, that you can “live long, and prosper.” 

copd shortness of breath

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