Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: What You Need To Know, Treatment Options

What is COPD?

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This medical condition comprises of two disease states; chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is known as one of the leading causes of damaged airways in the lungs. COPD is also attributed as one of the main causes of blockage in the airways, making it narrower and thus leading to a struggle for air to get in and out of the lung. This condition, as stated by the team at Nova Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Associates is a long-term condition.

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Causes of COPD

One of the most prominent causes of COPD is cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking has been implicated in a lot of nasal and respiratory conditions. Cigarette smokes release thousands of elements which are harmful to the nasal lining and the lungs. Additionally, cigarette smoke contains enzymes which damage a protein called elastin. Elastin helps make the lungs elastic.

In addition to smoking, COPD may also be caused by certain genetic conditions which cause a shortage in the production of alpha1 antitrypsin by the liver. Shortage of this protein increases the risk of developing emphysema prematurely and this is most common in smokers.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?

There are several symptoms which point to COPD. While most people may not be aware of this disease condition, early detection of the signs and symptom may influence better management of the health and respiratory condition. Some of the common symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, breathlessness, tightness of the chest and wheezing, frequent coughing, and frequent production of mucus as part of coughs.

In complicated cases, persons with COPD may find it difficult to exercise or walk because the muscles of the body are starved of appropriate oxygen supply. COPD may also expose victims to other secondary conditions such as flu and pneumonia, especially as the health of the lungs have been compromised.

COPD Risk factors

Tobacco use has been attributed as one of the most common risk factors for COPD. Heavy smokers are liable to developing the condition while cigarette smokers are at an even greater risk.

In other cases, deficiency of the alpha-1-anti-trypsin (AAT), a condition also known as familial emphysema, has been implicated in the disease condition.

About 1% to 3% of all cases of emphysema have been attributed to the deficiency of AAT. Patients with genetic deficiency of AAT may develop common symptoms of COPD at a very early stage.

COPD Diagnosis

Early detection of COPD can help in better managing the condition. However, for diagnosis, the most important test to be conducted is called the Spirometry. For the spirometry test, the patient is required to blow into a tube connected to a machine that measures how much air can be blow out and how quickly it can be blown. The doctor may also proceed to carry out a chest x-ray on the patient and an arterial blood test to measure the level of oxygen contained in the patient’s blood.

COPD Treatment options

Once a patient has been diagnosed with COPD, it is required that such a patient cease to engage in certain lifestyle activities to avoid worsening the condition. As part of activities that should be stopped, patients are advised to cease smoking and also avoid secondhand smoke. In some cases, doctors may proceed to prescribe certain drugs to better manage the condition. Bronchodilators may be prescribed as they are active for relaxing the muscles and airways.

In the event the symptoms of COPD are severe, doctors may also prescribe inhaled steroids to reduce inflammation in the lungs and in some cases, a combination drug may be prescribed. Combination drugs include both corticosteroids and bronchodilators.

For patients who suffer low blood oxygen levels, doctors may recommend oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy, in this case, is delivered through a nasal cannula which is attached to the oxygen canister.

How Common is COPD?

COPD has become a significant burden in recent time as there has been an increase in the record of the condition. In certain parts of India, the condition has been reported to have witnessed as much as 1 to 2.5% increase. COPD currently accounts for as much as 30% of all visits to the Pulmonary outpatient department and over 2.5% of admissions.

Distinguishing COPD from regular cough and cold

COPD is commonly associated with shortness of breath, wheezing, and decreased exercise tolerance. These symptoms however progressively worsen over time. However, seasonal cough and cold are attributed to changes in temperature or in other cases, allergies as a result of exposure to pollens and poor air quality.

People suffering from COPD may suffer from cold and cough due to seasonal changes, however, these may further worsen the condition and may in some cases lead to hospital admission.