Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a medical condition that affects the lungs, leading to ongoing and worsening respiratory problems. If not treated, COPD can become highly disabling and even life-threatening. Let’s delve into the symptoms and recommended treatments!
Approximately 15 million individuals in the US are diagnosed with COPD, but it is estimated that an additional 15 million people may have COPD without a diagnosis. While there is no outright cure for COPD, numerous treatments exist to slow its progression and alleviate the severity of symptoms.
What Is COPD?
COPD is a condition that often involves one or more of the following diseases:
- Emphysema: This condition results in damaged air sacs in the lungs, hindering the proper absorption of oxygen and leading to difficulties in oxygen flow into the blood. The damaged air sacs also cause the lungs to stretch, making exhaling challenging.
- Chronic bronchitis: In this case, the cilia fibers in the bronchial tubes become damaged and destroyed, leading to shortness of breath and chronic coughing due to persistent mucus build-up in the lungs.
- Refractory asthma: Also known as nonreversible asthma, this condition does not improve with conventional asthma medications
Causes and Risk Factors
The primary cause of COPD is exposure to pollution and toxins in the air. The most significant culprit is smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. However, working or living in areas with high levels of air pollution, smoke, fumes, and other lung irritants also contribute to the development of COPD.
Risk factors for COPD include:
- A history of asthma and respiratory allergies.
- A history of lung infections or pneumonia.
- Being over 40 years of age and overweight
Early-stage symptoms of COPD may include recurring and bothersome coughing, mild to moderate shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
In the mid-stage, symptoms may progress to include the presence and coughing up of lots of mucus, more chronic coughing, frequent colds and flu, and worsening shortness of breath.
In the later stage, symptoms become more severe, with frequent struggles for breath, constant coughing, lack of energy, weight loss, swollen legs or ankles, and a bluish tint to the fingernails.
Self-help treatments primarily focus on stopping smoking and avoiding exposure to smoke, air pollution, allergens, and other lung irritants. Maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and following a non-inflammatory diet are also beneficial.
Medical treatments for COPD include:
- Inhalers to open airways and reduce lung inflammation.
- Oral steroids to alleviate bronchial inflammation.
- Certain antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections, particularly pneumonia.
- Flu and pneumonia vaccines to protect against infections.
- The use of supplemental oxygen in advanced cases.
- Surgical procedures may be considered for severe cases of COPD.
COPD Can Be a Catalyst For Other Health Problems
COPD makes individuals more susceptible to other respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. Moreover, it raises the risk of complications from viruses, colds, flu, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections. Additionally, COPD may increase the likelihood of developing diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, and heart disease.