COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung disease that blocks airflow from the lungs. It is chronic and inflammatory by nature, usually caused by contact with lung aggravations, such as cigarette smoke. COPD can lead to an increased risk of developing other disease, such as those that affect the heart and lungs.
Despite its glum outlook, COPD is treatable as well as preventable. When detected early enough and properly managed, COPD sufferers can control their symptoms and lead a healthy life with a lessened risk of the side conditions that often come with COPD. Living with the disease is also made easier with the support of others.
COPD symptoms all hover around the respiratory system, typically encompassing most breathing activities. These symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath that worsens with physical activity
- Excessive clearing of the throat
- A chronic cough
- Constant respiratory infections
Symptoms may also occur outside of the respiratory system. These can include:
- Tightness of the chest
- Blue tint to lips or nail beds
- Weight loss
- Swelling in feet or legs
There are also instances where people with COPD experience worsened symptoms that persist for several days. These are called “exacerbations” and are common with COPD. They can become worse over time and possibly lead to lung failure, so seek help immediately.
The main cause of COPD is tobacco smoke. 20-30% of habitual smokers will develop COPD, regardless of diagnosis. However, COPD can develop when individuals are exposed to fumes when cooking or heating when in poorly ventilated areas.
COPD affects your lungs by effectively weakening them and worsening their function. Air becomes trapped in the lungs when exhaling, making breathing more difficult. This also leaves your airways more susceptible to further illness. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are common in people with COPD.
Being exposed to tobacco smoke is the most prevalent risk factor for developing COPD. Habitual cigarette smoking is the most common cause, and the longer and more you smoke, the greater the risk becomes. Victims of secondhand smoke inhalation and those with asthma that smoke are also much more at risk of developing COPD.
Unfortunately, age and genetics also play a role, so even if you do not smoke you are not necessarily in the clear completely. COPD is a slow burning disease, and many are over the age of 40 when symptoms begin. Certain genetic disorders and deficiencies also influence the risk.
COPD opens the door to a whole host of complications due to decreased lung function.
Respiratory infections, such as the flu, pneumonia, and the common cold, are more common in those with COPD. These can verge on dangerous because they further weaken the lungs and the lung tissue, as well as making it more difficult to breathe. Regular vaccinations can help prevent these infections, but it is not guaranteed.
Lung cancer is more common with COPD. The risk of development is also common in chronic smokers, so quitting may reduce the risk.
People with COPD are also more likely to develop heart problems, including the elevated likelihood of experiencing heart attacks. Heart disease is also elevated with chronic smokers, so quitting smoking may reduce the risk.
High blood pressure is a risk that comes with COPD as well, predominantly in the arteries of the lungs. Bringing blood to the lungs becomes more difficult and a condition called pulmonary hypertension may occur.
People with COPD are also at a higher risk of developing depression. COPD can prevent you from enjoying the activities you were previously able to do and combating a chronic illness can lead to depression.
COPD is diagnosed with lung tests, X-rays, or CT scans. COPD is most commonly found in mild stages, but even when it reaches advanced stages, outlooks are still positive. There are effective therapies available for controlling symptoms, improving breathing ability, and reducing risks of complications.
One of the most crucial steps is stopping smoking. There are also many different types of medications on the market to treat symptoms as well as complications of COPD. Inhalers, steroids, and bronchodilators are common forms of treatment.
There are also types of lung therapy available for those with more severe symptoms. Oxygen therapy is common for those who need assistance with activity or sleep, but also for those who need an extra hand with everyday breathing. This is a proven technique backed by evidence, and it is the only form of treatment that can extend life.
There are also rehabilitation programs that can help you change your lifestyle. These generally include education on exercise and nutrition alongside counseling. These programs can shorten hospital stays as well as improve your overall quality of life.
Surgery is also a viable option for those who see less success on medication. Lung volume reduction, transplants, and bullectomy are common practices.
COPD is a clearer condition than most other chronic diseases. The cause and path of development is much more obvious than in the cases of other diseases. The most important route to reducing your risk of COPD is to quit smoking, or never begin to smoke.
This may not seem easy for a longtime smoker, but the resources are out there. There are programs to help with the tobacco and nicotine addiction. This is the best and more dependable chance to prevent damage to the lungs over time.
Your life will change after a COPD diagnosis. Life becomes a little bit more difficult when you cannot breathe, but even knowing the cause of the issue can weigh you down. There are physical as well as emotional trials that come with the disease. However, management of the disease is only the beginning of a better life.
There are ways to manage your symptoms, as mentioned above, but there are also support groups available for you and those affected. Sharing experience and strength with others is a major step in your emotional recovery process, and you may also be able to improve the life of someone else with your own experience.