Sponsored by Lung Institute
War is hell—particularly when the battleground is inside your own lungs. Unfortunately, for millions of Americans, chronic lung diseases such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema seem to be winning that war. Across the U.S. 6.3% of the adult population have been diagnosed with COPD.
Worse still, as the disease’s symptoms of fatigue, coughing and shortness of breath can often mimic the natural aging process, it’s estimated that another 25 million Americans are currently undiagnosed. As the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—with 730,000 COPD-related hospitalizations in 2011 alone—this a national problem, a problem that is often tragically ignored.
So, what are we doing about it?
Sadly, not that much. Although there are a variety of traditional treatment options, these choices can have their benefits and downsides. As an obstructive lung condition that sparks feelings of breathlessness, traditional medications have included inhalers, medications and supplemental oxygen. Though these treatments can open airways, calm down aggressive symptoms, and in the case of oxygen, address oxygen deprivation directly, these standard treatments are not without their drawbacks.
To start, these medications can be exorbitantly expensive over time—particularly on fixed incomes—creating situations where prescriptions are given up completely rather than forfeit the cost of another refill. In other cases, the side-effects of medications can be worse than the symptoms they’re designed to combat, causing weight loss or gain, nausea, headaches and dizziness. Supplemental oxygen, however, can become an anchor, reducing the mobility and quality of life of those who become tied to it.
However, in the fight against lung disease, a breakthrough may be here to end the war.
Recently, the development of regenerative medicine (the practice of using the body’s own cells to heal itself) has exploded, allowing innovative upstarts like the Lung Institute to enter the fight.
As opposed to traditional treatment options, stem cell therapy involves the careful separation of stem cells (the body’s natural healing mechanism) from a patient’s blood or bone marrow, returning them into the bloodstream where they come to rest within the lungs. Working to relieve inflammation (which opens the airways and allows easier breathing), these specialized cells may also aid in slowing disease progression—a feat that few, if any, traditional medications can attest.
Though the battle may be hard, no war is lost without surrender. Keep fighting.