Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or as we call it in short COPD is more common than you thought. Around 12 to 16 million people in America suffer from it and in United Kingdom 1.2 million people are living with diagnosed COPD. Therefore if you are among those people who have been diagnosed with COPD it is important to know some important facts about this disease and here are 10 facts about COPD which can make it easier for you to understand this disease and hence be able to take control and manage the symptoms to live a healthier life.
WHAT IS COPD?
COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which is a progressive disease of the lungs in which the air sacs (alveoli) present in the lungs become inflated and damage. COPD is a general term which actually describes two distinct disorders, namely chronic bronchitis and emphysema. A lot of patients have both these conditions by the time they are diagnosed with COPD.
Chronic is a disease which is persistent, emphysema is a condition in which the small airways and air sacs in the lungs are damaged, in bronchitis the air ways (bronchi) in the lungs become inflamed and pulmonary means relating to or affecting the lungs. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis cause the obstruction or narrowing of the airways. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis most commonly occur together. The term used for these diseases, COPD, describes the obstruction of airflow due to emphysema, chronic bronchitis or both of them.
The leading cause for COPD is smoking cigarettes but long term exposure to air pollutants and lung irritants can also cause this disease. However in majority of the cases the cause is smoking. When you smoke the lining of the air ways becomes damaged and inflamed. According to a research 3 in 20 people who smoke 20 cigarettes in a day and 1 in 4 people who smoke 40 cigarettes in a day develop COPD if they continue smoking.
Polluted working conditions and air pollution can also cause COPD is some cases or it can make the disease worse. Chances of developing COPD increase when smoking and exposure to air pollutants due to occupation are combined.
A very small number of people have hereditary risk of developing COPD because of a extremely rare protein deficiency which leads to blood, liver and lung disorders. This condition is known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Less than 1 case in 100 cases of COPD are genetic.
People who don’t smoke rarely develop COPD but passive smoking can be a potential cause.
The symptoms of COPD are cough, shortness of breath, mucus, wheezing and chest tightness among other symptoms. Cough is most often the first symptom to develop. And it is also productive with sputum. At first it comes and goes but gradually it becomes chronic. In the early stages of the disease one might think of it as smokers cough but when breathlessness starts, that is when people become concern.
Shortness of breath and wheezing may only occur in the beginning when you exert yourself. For example climbing stairs can make you breathless. But if you continue to smoke these symptoms tend to get worse gradually. And difficulty in breathing can become very distressing with the period of time.
The damaged airways make more mucus than the normal and this mucus forms sputum. This makes you cough up a lot of sputum every day.
Due to COPD you are prone to chest infections. When the symptoms become suddenly worse like when you have an infection, this is called exacerbation. In an infection wheezing with cough and breathlessness can become worse and you can cough more sputum than usual. During a chest infection the sputum can become yellow or green. Chest infections are caused due to viruses or bacteria. Bacteria (which can be treated with antibiotics) cause one in two or three infections of COPD. Viruses (which cannot be treated with antibiotics) are a common cause of infections especially in winters. Common cold virus causes one in three infections.
Other symptoms of COPD are vaguer. There examples are tiredness, swelling of ankles and weight loss.
Pain in the chest and coughing up blood are not common symptoms of COPD. When you have a chest infection you might get a little blood streaked sputum but pain in the chest, blood in sputum or just coughing up blood must be reported to the doctor immediately. So that conditions like angina, lung cancer or heart attack can be excluded.
WHO IS AFFECTED
People who are 40 or above 40 are afflicted with COPD most often, with high rates in smokers. Changes in the lifestyle and the increase in successful treatment options is making the progress of the disease slower and is improving the quality of life for the COPD patients.
A combination of tests helps in the diagnosis of COPD. These tests include CT scans, pulmonary function tests and chest x rays. Your doctor may suggest one or a few tests to diagnose you.
Doctor can prescribe a combination of medicines to treat COPD which includes inhalers and oxygen therapy. In addition to medication physical therapy and change in diet can also help. The goal of the treatment is to slow the disease down and you can do that by quitting smoking and keeping away from triggers like air pollutants, limit the symptoms like breathlessness with the help of medicines, improve your overall health by doing regular physical activity, prevent the flare ups and treat them with medicines and other treatments.
Pulmonary rehabilitation or rehab can help you achieve these goals. It helps you in training your muscles, mind and heart so that you can get the maximum out of the damaged lungs. The program has a team of professionals that can help you with preventing or managing the problems that are caused by COPD. Rehab combines breathing therapy, exercise, eating advice and other information.
Although you get all the help you can from the doctor but there is a lot that you can do for yourself. First and foremost is to quit smoking this will slow the disease down and improve the quality of your life. Other things that can make a difference are to eat well, stay active and avoid triggers.
Just in case your COPD becomes worse then you will need other treatments like
- Oxygen treatment: In this treatment you get extra oxygen with help of a face mask or with a small tube that fits in your nose. This treatment can be done at the hospital or at home.
- Treatment for weight loss and muscle weakness: People suffering from severe COPD often have trouble in keeping their bodies strong and their weight up. This is treated with paying attention to what you eat and how regular you eat.
- Depression: COPD does not only affects your lungs it can also cause anxiety, depression and stress. And they can take up your energy and make your COPD symptoms worse. But they are treatable. If you feel too anxious or sad then contact your doctor.
- Surgery: Surgery is only used in COPD for those rare cases which do not improve with the other treatments.
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