COPD: The Disease Leonard Nimoy Lived With

Less than a month after taking to Twitter to urge fans to quit smoking, Leonard Nimoy died at the age of 83 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease that makes breathing difficult.

Best known for playing Spock on Star Trek, Nimoy spent his last weeks reminding fans of the dangers of smoking through Twitter. The actor had quit smoking 30 years earlier, but not soon enough, he tweeted. Nimoy had announced last year that he had been diagnosed with the disease.

COPD is almost always caused by smoking, which accounts for as many as 9 out of 10 COPD-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continuing to smoke after being diagnosed will only escalate the damage of COPD.

In the early stages of the disease, patients experience a nagging cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. Nimoy passed away from end-stage COPD, which includes severe airflow limitation and exacerbations.

After he died, his wife confirmed that end-stage COPD was the cause of death. However, this is not the cause with everyone at this stage of the disease. A study in 2008 found that more COPD patients die with their disease rather than from it.

COPD most commonly occurs in people age 40 years and older who have a history of smoking. The disease restricts airflow for a number of reasons: the airways in the lungs lose their ability to stretch and shrink; the walls between many air sacs are destroyed; the walls of the airways become irritated and swollen; the airways make more mucus, which clogs them and blocks airflow.

People with COPD are told to stop smoking, plan special activities that strengthen the muscles used for breathing, use medicines such as a bronchodilator or inhaled steroid, or in serious cases surgery can be recommended.