Make your breathing a priority

Do you have trouble catching your breath after climbing stairs? Does a simple cold turn into a weeks-long mishap? You may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and you’re not alone. In the country, more than 1.6 million Canadians have been diagnosed with COPD[1]while in Quebec, 594,000 people are affected[2].

And this number could be much higher, since according to the Dr François Maltais, pulmonologist at the Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec, 80 percent of people who have COPD do not know it and do not know what the symptoms are.

COPD is little known, even misunderstood, and is closely associated with tobacco use (although not exclusively). For Dr. Maltais, we must talk about it more in order to better prevent it and treat it in time.

What is COPD?

Essentially, COPD is a group of diseases that obstruct the airways, particularly the bronchi, the little tubes that carry air to the lungs. Once affected, these tend to shrink and become inflamed, which can cause the person affected to have difficulty breathing, fatigue and a persistent cough.

These are diseases that develop gradually when you are exposed for several years to a substance that is harmful to the lungs. In our country, tobacco remains, by far, the number one risk factor. The majority of diagnoses occur after the age of 40, since it takes a number of years of exposure to a harmful substance like tobacco to do its work.

Dr François Maltais, pulmonologist at the University Institute of Cardiology and Pulmonology of Quebec

According to Dr. Maltais, if you smoke and begin to experience symptoms of COPD, the most important thing to do is to get help to quit smoking. The second most important thing? Consult your doctor.

The importance of consulting

If you were wondering, no, it’s not normal to have repeated colds, flu and bronchitis, even in winter, even after 50, and to see these situations persist for several weeks.

According to the Dr Maltese, these are often the first manifestations of COPD, but people tend to trivialize them, even hide them from their doctor, out of shame, for fear of being stigmatized. However, without diagnosis, without treatment, these symptoms will worsen over time. Rest assured, health professionals are not there to judge, but to help.

It’s important to get a diagnosis. COPD is treatable. It heals. The damage caused by 25-30 years of cigarettes cannot necessarily be removed, but the quality of life can be greatly improved. There are inhalation treatments and medications that can increase the caliber of the bronchi and allow you to breathe more freely. Other non-pharmacological solutions, such as physical activity, can help enormously.

Dr François Maltais, pulmonologist at the University Institute of Cardiology and Pulmonology of Quebec

The severity of COPD varies from person to person, and only a doctor can help find the right treatment plan to help you feel better, lead an active life, and slow lung damage. Even after diagnosis, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open to make sure the medications are working as effectively as possible. In some cases, inhalers can help make breathing easier.

Living (well) with a diagnosis of COPD

Louise Lépine, a retired nurse, is 73 years old. She smoked for more than 35 years before choosing to quit cigarettes for good 20 years ago when she was in her early 50s.

Unfortunately, soon after making this choice, she begins to experience lung health issues. She runs after her breath, as they say. Climbing hills and stairs becomes more and more difficult. But at the time, Louise worked in the health care field and she did not hesitate to consult a doctor.

I had all kinds of questions and decided to see a pulmonologist. It fell there: COPD. I knew I wouldn’t come back like before, that it wouldn’t go back up, but I decided to keep my spirits up, and it wasn’t long before I got myself back on track.

Louise Lépine, patient and lecturer

On the advice of her doctor, Louise joined a program of the Quebec Lung Association, which helped her better understand her disease and control its symptoms. Following a program adapted to her condition, she goes twice a week to the Inspir’er Center for pulmonary rehabilitation and to meet other people who share her situation.

It feels good to meet, to talk about it, to give each other stuff between us. We do exercises, we are well supported and I feel safe. If I’m in trouble, they can help me quickly, because there’s a whole network around me.

Louise Lépine, patient and lecturer

Today, Louise wants to testify and raise awareness about COPD. She is even on the board of directors of the Quebec Lung Association. She keeps her spirits up and remains optimistic and active. What is the secret that allows her to be always so active? Because one day she decided to make her breathing a priority.

Do you think you or someone close to you has COPD? Visit to learn more!

[1] Lung Health Foundation. COPD. Accessed October 12, 2022.

[2] Canadian Institute for Health Information. COPD in Alberta: Examining the Characteristics and Health Care Use of High Users. Canadian Institute for Health Information; 2017.

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