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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

 

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is characterized by poor airflow in the lungs due to the breakdown of lung tissue. This condition typically worsens with time, and the person suffering from it experiences difficulty in breathing. COPD induces the production of large amounts of mucus and causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, etc.

In the United States, COPD is the third leading cause of death. COPD develops slowly and can limit an individual’s ability to carry out routine daily activities. In severe cases a person may be unable to do basic activities like walking, cooking, etc. Middle-aged or older adults are mostly affected by it. This disease is however, not infectious. It isn't passed from person to person.

COPD is also known by the name of chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive airway disease and chronic obstructive lung disease.

lungs.jpg

 

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is characterized by poor airflow in the lungs due to the breakdown of lung tissue. This condition typically worsens with time, and the person suffering from it experiences difficulty in breathing. COPD induces the production of large amounts of mucus and causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, etc.

In the United States, COPD is the third leading cause of death. COPD develops slowly and can limit an individual’s ability to carry out routine daily activities. In severe cases a person may be unable to do basic activities like walking, cooking, etc. Middle-aged or older adults are mostly affected by it. This disease is however, not infectious. It isn't passed from person to person.

COPD is also known by the name of chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive airway disease and chronic obstructive lung disease.

There are two primarily types of COPD:

Chronic bronchitis:In this condition, the airways through which air passes to the lungs become inflamed and produce a lot of mucus. This production of mucus may result in the narrowing or blockage of the airways, making it harder for the person to breathe.

 

Emphysema:In a normal, healthy person, the air sacs in the lungs are stretchable like balloons. When one inhales and exhales, these sacs expand and contract in order to move the air through the lungs. But in a person suffering from emphysema, these air sacs are damaged and lose their elasticity. Less air passes through the lungs, therefore making a person feel short of breath.

Generally, people suffering from COPD have both these conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

The primary symptoms of COPD are sputum production, shortness of breath and persistent cough.

Cough: This is in fact, the first symptom that is seen to occur in individuals suffering from this condition. If a person experiences such coughing for more than three months, without any known reason, then they should seek medical advice to rule out the possibility of COPD. Coughing can occur even before COPD develops fully. Continuous and persistent coughing can even lead to rib fractures and can result in episodes of unconsciousness.

Shortness of breath: This symptom of COPD is perhaps the most bothersome. It worsens with time and is a constant source of anxiety.

Other symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, severe tiredness, weight loss, etc.

In some cases, the symptoms may get worse suddenly. A flare up of COPD symptoms is called exacerbation. This condition may be mild or can even be life-threatening. The longer a person has COPD, the more severe exacerbation can be.

What are the causes of COPD?

The following are the main known causes:

Smoking: Tobacco smoking is the primary cause of COPD globally. Other types of smoke, like that from marijuana or cigars, etc. is also among the leading risk factors for the occurrence of this condition. About 80- 90% of cases of COPD in the United States are caused due to smoking. Usually, a person must have smoked for years before the symptoms are visible.

Air pollution: Inhaling toxic pollutants can, over a period of time, lead to COPD. Such pollutants can even be from indoor air pollution such as cooking fire smoke. In urban areas, people may develop COPD due to exposure to pollutants from vehicles, industries, etc.

Occupational exposures: People working in industries like coal mining, gold mining, cotton textiles, chemicals, etc. have a prolonged exposure to workplace dust. It can eventually contribute to the development of COPD.

Genetics: Genetics can also play a role in the development of COPD. A genetic condition called alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency is responsible for about 2% of the cases.

Diagnosis

Anyone who is over the age of 35 and experiences symptoms like shortness of breath, chronic cough, a large amount of sputum production and is frequently exposed to the risk factors of the disease should consider being checked for COPD.

Following are the processes for the diagnosis.

Spirometry: In this process, a ratio called FEV/FVC is determined. If the ratio is less than 70%, a person is said to be suffering from COPD. FEV (forced expiratory volume) is the measure of the greatest volume of air that is breathed out in the first second of a breath. FVC (forced vital capacity) is a measure of the greatest volume of air that can be breathed out in a whole breath. The GOLD scale shown below is used to determine the severity of the condition.

Severity

Ratio

Mild/GOLD 1

≥80

Moderate/GOLD 2

50–79

Severe/GOLD 3

30–49

Very severe/GOLD 4

 

Other tests

Along with the test mentioned above, a chest X-ray and a complete blood count may need to be done. In the chest X-ray, a person suffering from COPD will show an over expanded lung, flattened diaphragm and an increased retrosternal airspace.

How is COPD treated?

The aim of COPD treatment is to:

  • Relieve a person of the symptoms
  • Slow down the progress of the disease
  • Improve the overall health of the individual
  • Improve their ability to stay active

 

Medicines

Bronchodilators: These are used to relax the muscles around the airways. It helps them to open, therefore making breathing easier. They come in two varieties: short-acting that lasts for four to six hours and long-acting that lasts for about 12 hours or more. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor will prescribe the most suitable one for you. A device called an inhaler is needed to take this medicine.

Glucocorticosteroids:In severe cases of COPD, in which the symptoms flare up very often, the doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator along with an inhaled steroid. Steroids will help in reducing the inflammation , helping with the breathing process. However, this is not a preferred treatment, and so the doctor may ask the individual to take it for a trial period of six weeks or so to see how they respond to it.

Vaccines: In order to avoid any complications that can occur if a person with COPD catches influenza, pneumonia, etc. they may be advised by the doctor to have the vaccines for these.

Other treatments:

Pulmonary Rehabilitation: This is a broad program that is designed to improve the well-being of people suffering from chronic breathing problems. It includes an exercise regime, disease management training and nutritional and psychological counseling to help patients stay active and to carry out their routine activities.

Oxygen Therapy: In severe cases of COPD, a person often experiences a low level of oxygen in the blood. Oxygen therapy can help them feel better and stay active. In this therapy, oxygen is given through nasal prongs or masks.

Surgery: This is the last resort for people suffering from severe COPD that doesn’t improve even after taking medicines. These surgeries include bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery or, in extreme cases, lung transplant surgery.

The symptoms of COPD get worse with time and age. In some cases they might get worse suddenly. So, any changes in symptoms must be reported to the doctor, so that the risk associated with the symptoms can be managed in plenty of time.

Lifestyle Changes

The following are the lifestyle changes that can go a long way in helping a person to deal with COPD.

Quit smoking and stay away from lung irritants:

If there is one thing you can do to treat COPD, it is to stop smoking. Tobacco smoke is the main culprit for the occurrence of this condition. If you have difficulty in quitting smoking, then get help from your doctor. Ask the doctor about products and programs that can help you to stop smoking. It is also necessary to avoid passive smoking and places that are polluted with dust, fumes and other toxic substances.

Healthy body weight: It is necessary to maintain a healthy body weight. If you are overweight, your body will require more oxygen, therefore your lungs and heart will have to work harder. If you are underweight you will easily feel tired and fatigued and will be more susceptible to infections.

Eating Habits:

Having a healthy and balanced diet is a must in order to live with COPD. Ensure that your diet is:

Rich in fiber rich foods: Include lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, bran, cereal, rice, etc.

Low in sodium: Limit your intake of salt and salt rich food. Too much salt causes water retention and makes breathing more difficult.

Calcium and Vitamin D rich foods: Include yogurt, low fat milk and other low fat products in your diet to get an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D.

Low in foods that cause gas: A bloated stomach can make breathing more difficult. So avoid foods that cause gas like carbonated drinks, spicy and greasy food, etc.

Apart from these, it is also advisable to eat small meals at regular intervals rather than large ones. Chew your food slowly, and choose foods that are easy to chew. Always sit while eating, and don’t lie down right after eating.

There is no cure for COPD yet. A person cannot undo damage to the lungs. But with treatments and lifestyle changes, it is possible to live a comparatively better life and slow the progress of the disease.

Please refer to the Inflammation article for nutritional supplement choices and other advice. You may consider InflaGene, offered for sale on this website.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

 

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