Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a name for a group of diseases that affects the lungs. These disorders narrow the airway and make breathing increasingly difficult over time.
The disease affects both men and women worldwide but is more common in middle-aged and older adults that smoke. Across the US, more than 16 million patience have been diagnosed with the disease. Until breathing becomes noticeably difficult, many people may not know they suffer from it.
When someone has COPD, it could be chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Both conditions are treatable and preventable, and they usually occur together. The severity of the two diseases varies among individuals with COPD.
Chronic bronchitis is the long-term inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, while emphysema refers to the damage to the air sacs.
Without proper treatment, COPD can worsen with time. In addition, this disease can also affect the heart of those that suffer from it and also worsen other respiratory infections.
What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of COPD?
COPD occurs when there is damage and inflammation in the lungs, the main culprit that causes this is smoking. This doesn’t mean COPD cannot affect non-smokers, but the likelihood of suffering from it is much higher for smokers.
In addition to smoking cigarettes, other factors that can increase the chance of developing COPD include:
- Underlying illnesses like asthma
- Passive smoking
- Exposure to pipe smoke
- Long-term exposure to air pollution
- Dust inhalation
- Workplace chemicals
Alongside tobacco, people living in poorly ventilated homes may be exposed to household hazards such as cooking gases, fumes, and cleaning agents that can ask as irritants leading to the development of COPD.
In about 1% of people, the disease can develop as a result of underlying genetic factors. The genetic disorder that can lead to developing the condition causes low levels of the protein alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt).
What Are the Symptoms of COPD?
Some people develop different symptoms during the early and late stages of COPD. Noticeable symptoms may not appear until there is significant damage to the lungs.
Many people may think that shortness of breath when exercising or performing an activity is a sign of old age. However, shortness of breath might be an indication of more serious respiratory problems. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, be sure to contact your healthcare provider for further evaluation.
The early symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for a cold because they are mild and similar.
Symptoms include the following:
- Occasional shortness of breath after a moderate to severe activity
- Wheezing and tightness of chest
- Frequent clearing of throat, especially in the morning
- Lack of energy
When the symptoms worsen, the people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may develop the following:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea) after a mild exercise and at rest when it worsens
- Frequent and recurrent cough
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Wheezing and chest tightness during exhalation
- Unexpected weight loss
- Swelling of the feet and ankles
You should seek medical attention when:
- You can’t talk or have trouble catching your breath
- You feel like your heart is racing or chest tightening
- You notice any symptoms of a respiratory infection
- You feel confused and dizzy
- You notice grey or bluish fingernails or lips (This is a sign of a low oxygen level in the blood)
Treatment of COPD
COPD is a condition that is treatable and can be managed. Early treatment ensures rapid recovery and prevents complications by slowing the disease’s progression.
It is quite difficult to manage at home. That being the case, you should work closely with your healthcare provider to develop an effective treatment plan. The treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease includes the following:
- Oxygen therapy to cater to the low oxygen level in the blood
- Surgery for severe cases of COPD or when the patient is not responding to treatment. This could indicate that the patient has emphysema. Sometimes, lung transplantation is also another option
- Medications such as corticosteroids, inhaled bronchodilators, theophylline, antibiotics, and antivirals are used to treat COPD
What Can You Do to Manage Your Symptoms?
- Aside from medical treatment, there are other interventions that you can adopt in the treatment of COPD. Lifestyle modification, in addition to your medical treatment, can fasten your recovery.
- Since smoking is a risk factor for COPD development, you can quit smoking to improve your symptoms.
- Avoid second-hand smoke, as it is also a risk factor.
- Work with your dietician to create a diet plan that suits your condition. Although there’s no specific diet designed for COPD, eating the right foods can improve your overall health. Consider a healthier diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, grains, and proteins.
- Keep hydrated. Water makes it easy to cough out the mucus.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, especially when you are still taking your medications since caffeine can interact with some drugs.
- Let your healthcare provider recommend the best exercises for you.
How Can You Prevent COPD?
You can prevent COPD by following these measures:
- Avoid smoking and limit exposure to other harmful health hazards
- Develop a healthy diet
- Get vaccinated to lower your risk of other respiratory infections
On a Final Note
We hope you found the information in this article useful. Don’t hesitate to share with someone who might need it, and, very importantly, read other articles to learn how to deal with diseases and health complications, and find useful health tips.
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