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Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease
Originally published in USC Times Vol. 27, no.1

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – itself a group of several diseases including
emphysema, chronic bronchitis and, in some cases, asthma – is the main cause of death from
respiratory failure, according to the CDC. But prevention isn’t as straightforward as it might be with some other diseases.

“Apart from not smoking, it’s not easy necessarily to say ‘Avoid this, avoid that,’” says Jennifer Hucks, an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine in the School of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical care and Sleep Medicine. “And as we’ve become more and more industrialized, we’re all exposed to more carbons and all kinds of nasty stuff, but we’re also living longer, so we see patients with COPD-type illnesses who have never smoked.”

With respiratory failure, Hucks says, prevention is more a matter of early diagnosis, proper long-term treatment to prevent infections, and pneumonia vaccinations for people over 65 or who have already been diagnosed with a respiratory condition.

“Pneumonia is a big one,” Hucks explains. “You might die from pneumonia because of your COPD, or because you’re an advanced age, or you’re immunocompromised. Pneumonia is kind of the end of a lot of disease processes.” 

Of course, University Specialty Clinics, like the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, treat a range of interrelated respiratory ailments, not just those that fall under the COPD umbrella.
“The value of the specialty clinics is that we provide multi-specialty collaboration in all the different areas covered by the School of Medicine,” Hucks says. “Most private pulmonary practices are going to have probably two to four physicians who will mostly do straight pulmonary. We have seven practitioners, and all of us have our own specialties.

For example, Hucks provides general pulmonary care but focuses more specifically on cystic fibrosis, chronic respiratory failure and pulmonary hypertension.

“I also see patients who are at risk for respiratory failure, like patients who have neuromuscular disease, or ALS,” she says. “Those are people who will eventually probably have some type of respiratory failure, so we want to start seeing them early and follow their cases as they process and provide whatever support we can.”

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