Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, more commonly referred to as COPD, isn’t a single issue. It actually is a term for a group of lung diseases, including emphysema, bronchitis and asthma.

Approximately 12 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with COPD each year, and 120,000 die from it. As many as 12 million more adults in the U.S. are thought to have undiagnosed COPD.

November is National COPD Awareness Month, and it can be a good reminder to get checked by your doctor if you are having symptoms like frequent shortness of breath, frequent coughing, breathlessness, wheezing and tightness in the chest.

With COPD, your lungs don’t operate effectively. Emphysema can destroy air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, and bronchitis can produce inflamed, narrowed bronchial tubes leading to mucus. When you have this progressive disease, you may feel like you are constantly struggling to take a breath.

While tobacco smoke, both direct and secondhand, is the most common reason people develop COPD, you can also get COPD from pollution or chemical fumes, untreated asthma, or even from a genetic disorder called AAT deficiency. People often get this disease after age 40 and may also have certain risk factors. Prolonged exposure to chemicals, dust or pollution or childhood respiratory infections are also common causes. You can be diagnosed with blood tests, lung function tests or imaging.

There is no cure for COPD, but it is treatable and can be prevented. Treatment can ease symptoms and improve the quality of life. Your primary care doctor can coordinate specialty care with a lung specialist or respiratory therapist. Medications can help relax airway muscles and reduce inflammation. Supplemental oxygen therapy and surgery are also possible treatments.

Untreated, COPD can lead to a worsening of the disease and potential heart and blood pressure problems.

Here are some tips to prevent COPD and make living with it easier:

■ Change your lifestyle: Quitting smoking, avoiding chemical fumes and pollution, and working with your doctor to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan are all ways to prevent COPD or alleviate symptoms. Getting a yearly flu shot and a pneumococcal vaccine are good ways to avoid infections that create respiratory problems.

■ Breathe easier: Your doctor may recommend a lightweight, portable oxygen unit for trips outside the house or a humidifier for your home if you have mucus buildup. You can learn breathing techniques when your doctor refers you for pulmonary rehabilitation. These solutions can help strengthen respiratory muscles and allow you to enjoy activities.

■ Get support: Join a support group to help you manage the physical and emotional challenges of living with COPD, and learn more about available resources.

Tracy Slater is an Aurora Bay Area Medical Group Nurse Practitioner at Aurora Medical Center-Bay Area. Her office can be reached at 715-735-4690.