Star Trek Actor Leonard Nimoy’s Death from COPD: What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Oregon Clinic

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is one of the most common lung diseases, typically afflicting current or former smokers, and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Leonard Nimoy, the 83-year-old Star Trek actor known for playing Spock, passed away from this disease just shortly after announcing his diagnosis. While it had been 30 years since the actor gave up cigarettes, his death is not only a reminder of the importance of giving up smoking, but getting accurately diagnosed and treated as well.

The CDC estimates that while 24 million Americans may suffer from COPD, only about half have been diagnosed. However, a diagnosis can help lead patients to adopt lifestyle changes and effective treatments.

“Lots of patients have a nihilistic attitude when they receive a diagnosis of COPD because they don’t know that there are very effective treatments for the disease,” says Dr. Wayne Strauss, a Pulmonary Medicine specialist at The Oregon Clinic – Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine. “Patients often know the adverse health effects of smoking and will ask me what they could possibly do to slow the progression of this disease or to treat their symptoms.”

Symptoms of COPD can vary based on the stage of the disease and the damage it has done to the lungs, but can be debilitating once they start to occur. Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath, especially when you are doing activities that you used to be able to do
  • Phlegm (mucus) production
  • Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound) in the chest when you breathe
  • Feeling like you can’t take a deep breath
  • Tightness in the chest

Dr. Strauss and his team of Pulmonary Medicine specialists at The Oregon Clinic see many patients for consultations related to symptoms of COPD, and utilize the latest, most effective treatments to help patients feel better and slow the disease’s damage to the lungs.

A diagnosis typically involves pulmonary function testing, which allows the physician to test how good a patient’s lungs are functioning. If the text shows that COPD may be present, follow-up with a chest x-ray or CAT scan is sometimes recommended.

The primary treatment for COPD is to quit smoking. However, COPD does commonly occur in individuals who have given up smoking. For both current or former smokers, making lifestyle changes including exercise routines and beginning a healthy eating routine can help control symptoms. Inhaler-type and pill-type medicines are also available to include in patient treatment plans. For patients who exhibit advanced symptoms of COPD, surgeries, or in rare cases, lung transplants are considered.

When should you see a doctor?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or if you have concerns about your risk for COPD, talk with your primary health care provider, or call The Oregon Clinic – Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine at (503) 963-3030 to request an appointment.