Ex-smoker for 41 years just diagnosed - COPD Friends

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Ex-smoker for 41 years just diagnosed


I smoked for 10 years off-and-on till age 27, when I quit for good. That was 41 years ago, and I was stunned to just receive a diagnosis of emphysema! I've also exercised 3-5 days a week most of my adult life, though a painful knee injury has limited that recently. Most of the treatment advice I read says quitting smoking is the most important step to slow progression, along with exercise. But I've already done/am doing these things.

Would love to hear from anyone else in a similar situation, especially those who have been diagnosed for awhile, what the course of your illness has been, and what you've done to slow its progression.

12 Replies

Hi Mettagreetings. I was diagnosed with mild emphysema in February at the age of 59 having been smoke free for 16 years. I have also exercised all my life. I did smoke for 28 years though so although a shock I understood why I had it. Have you been tested for Alpha 1 antitrypsin - this is a genetic link to emphysema which means you can get it even if you have never smoked. It seems incredible that you could have damaged your lungs after only 10 years of smoking. Try not to despair - my consultant was very reassuring that you can keep this disease at bay with living a healthy life so keep on doing what you’re doing. I paid to see a respiratory physio privately and it was worth it for the support and advice on breathing exercises and how to maximise what you have. Your doctor may refer you to pulmonary rehab too which has benefitted a lot of people on here. There is also so much support and information on this site - it has helped me a lot. Good luck!

Mettagreetings in reply to Hidden

Hi Brightongirl,

Thanks so much for your encouraging reply. I haven't received genetic testing, but no one in my family that I know of has had any form of COPD, despite the fact that both of my parents smoked, my father heavily, till they were in their mid-30's.

I appreciate the tip on the "respiratory physio". I am in the US and am not sure exactly what that equates to in our health care parlance: a respiratory therapist (usually working in an inpatient setting as part of a multidisciplinary team), a physical therapist with a specialty in respiratory diseases, or some other professional. But it surely seems worth pursuing. I am fairly certain pulmonary rehab will be part of the recommended treatment once I see the pulmonologist, and I look forward to that.

Hi Metta, I was diagnosed Copd/Emphysema borderline severe, about 7 years ago, and smoked for a few more years after, a total of 40+ years smoking, I don't remember the exact year of the diagnosis. Always been active, quit smoking 15 months ago, and make sure I exercise 3-5 days a week. I think the quitting and exercise has helped... I feel better like I can go longer, in fact I think the only thing that slows me down is my age. And you have to admit whether smoker or not at some point our health starts a bit of decline, and I doubt many 65-70 year olds have 100% lung function.

Did you seek medical because of symptoms? You should have been staged when diagnosed, and you if you are mild and already dong the right things, don't even worry about it. Like I said I am moderate to severe, I do use a inhaler twice a day and barely notice breathlessness and tiredness, unless I am working out, and rarely when I am just being active like golfing or carrying around a 2 year old granddaughter.

Thanks for your upbeat spin on this dreaded disease. I love your "don't even worry about it"! I know that I am prone to worry since a year ago when my health seemed to take a rather abrupt turn for the worse, with another unexpected diagnosis, an obscure heart disease that results in EKG's that invariably look like I am having a heart attack!

One of my worries about emphysema is that my heart disease precludes use of an inhaler, confirmed by both the clinic doc and my PCP. However, one of the things I really appreciate about this forum is the discovery of novel alternative remedies like the Himalayan salt inhaler!

Hi Mettagreetings,

I smoked for about 30 years. I had been a non-smoker for about 13 years when I was diagnosed with mild emphysema and lung cancer (that was 5 years ago). My oncologist told me there was no way to know for sure what caused the cancer (and there was no family history), but the emphysema was a given even if I had never smoked because of the environment I grew up in (second hand smoke all day every day).

You are already getting some exercise, I was told by my oncologist, and my primary care that it is also important to eat healthy and try to avoid any known lung irritants. I have found that certain smells really bother me like the smell of bleach, and I can't walk past the scented fabric softener sheets in the detergent isle at the grocery store without getting short of breath.

You can live a long life with emphysema, my dad lived about 15 years. He would have lived longer, but the dementia took him.

I wish you a long and happy life.

Hi Katherine, I really appreciate your reply, and your encouragement that emphysema is not nevessarily a totally uncontrollable doomsday diagnosis! Your mention of secondhand smoke also led me to an insight about where my lung compromise might have originated.

I too had significant exposure to secondhand smoke, living in a very small house with both parents smoking till I was 12 or 13. Then, right after I myself stopped smoking, I was for 3 years stuck like glue to a boyfriend who smoked 3 packs a day of Benson and Hedges extra-long menthol! On top of that, I put myself through college by working after-school and weekends (full-time during summers) in a poorly ventilated drycleaning plant, inhaling tons of toxic fumes. So your reply helps me see that my emphysema is not such a mystery after all. During the years in question (1950-1980), of course, we had no knowledge of the devastating effects of what we were inhaling.

Thanks so much for sharing!

I don't know exactly how old he was at diagnosis because he didn't tell us for a few years. But I'm as sure as I can be he was in his mid 50's. I do know he was 75 when he passed. But he also had dementia. That was 13 years ago.

You too

Thank you for your reply, Redsox; I appreciate your questions as well as your comments. The diagnosis came about as a result of a visit to an Urgent Care Clinic due to a lung infection (the second in a short time) that I developed. I was unable to cough and bring up mucous to clear the infection. The doctor there said she couldn't prescribe an inhaler due to a heart condition I have (left bundle branch block, with irregular heartbeats), so she gave me breathing exercises to do every hour to clear my lungs. The radiologist's report from a chest x-ray she ordered showed "emphysematic changes"; the urgent care doctor was the one who told me i that I had emphysema, and that this was the source of my being unable to ckear the lung infection. She then referred me to a pulmonologist. The earliest appointment I was able to get was for July 2, so I am anxiously waiting for that to clarify my situation.

A couple of months prior to the Irgent Care visit, routine bloodwork ordered by my PCP came back with an elevated CO2 (as I recall, 34, when the top of the normal range is 29). This was prior to the lung infection and X-ray findings, and my doctor dismissed it as random test variation. However, after the Urgent Care diagnosis, I wondered if it could have been symptomatic of emphysema and read that it could. This frightened me, as it seemed to lend additional credence to the diagnosis and, more importantly, to suggest that disease progression was further along than I had thought.

As far as diet goes, my lifelong healthful habits have also included healthy eating (or so I thought). I have been pescatarian for 38 years (no meat or poultry, just a modest amount of fish and otherwise ovo-lacto vegetarian). My diet, has, however, been heavy on dairy products, which we now know is a major source of inflammation.

Thanks again so much for taking interest in my distressing health news.

You are right, back then we had no clue.

Hello, Mettagreetings. I, too, was diagnosed with emphysema long after I had quit smoking -- 23 years. I always thought that I had dodged a bullet. But then one day at age 64 (about a year and a half ago) I started feeling poorly and was diagnosed. I think I feel like hell most of the time, yet my pulmonologist ( who I just saw yesterday) seems to think I'm doing brilliantly. I'm like, really? At this point I'm just using inhalers. She enrolled me in rehab classes, and I've done pretty well with exercising. She is very stingy about handing out steroids or things like that. She has a very good reputation, or so I've heard, but sometimes I wish she would prescribe me some heroin or something to feel better. Just kidding (I've NEVER taken heroin) I guess what I'm saying is sometimes we wish for something to help us that simply does not exist.

Not all emphysema comes from smoking.You are doing everything you can right now you can get refured to Pulmanary Rehab which teaches you how to breath from your your stomach and best exercises for it but you can Google them to or wach the vedios of the exercises on YouTube. You can also start using the inhalers your Doctor think are best for you to start treating it early

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