COPD – Conditions & Treatment

What is COPD?

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD is a long-term lung disease usually caused by smoking. It includes a few lung diseases: the most common are Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema. Many people with COPD have both of these diseases. Symptoms include shortness of breath, increased mucus and coughing. Some people with COPD say it feels like they’re breathing through a straw. While health care experts debate over a cure, with the right treatment, people with COPD can lead active lives and live for many years. People can learn strategies for living with COPD.

What does COPD do to my lungs?

COPD slowly damages your airways, the breathing tubes that go in and out of your lungs. People with COPD have swollen and partly blocked airways. They can also have damage in the air sacs at the tips of their airways.

COPD makes it hard to breathe because:

  • the airways and air sacs in your lungs lose their shape and stretchiness
  • the walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed
  • the walls of the airways become thick and swollen
  • cells in the airways make more mucus than usual, which blocks the airways.

Many people with COPD have emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The emphysema part of COPD means you have damage to the air sacs at the tips of your airways. This makes it hard for your body to take in the oxygen it needs. The chronic bronchitis part of COPD means your airways are irritated, red, and make too much sticky mucus. The walls of your airways are swollen and partly block the air from passing through.

What Causes COPD?

Smoking is the main cause of COPD in 80-90 % of cases. Other things that can cause COPD are:

  • A rare genetic disorder called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Air pollution (dust or chemicals)
  • having repeated lung infections as a child

Who can get COPD?
Anyone who smokes or who smoked in the past can get COPD. People with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, exposure to second-hand smoke or pollution, or many childhood chest infections, can also get it.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The main symptoms of COPD are:

  • being short of breath
  • coughing up a lot of mucus (phelgm)
  • feeling tired
  • getting chest infections often (colds, flu, etc.)

People usually notice COPD symptoms when they’re in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Often people think their COPD symptoms – feeling short of breath, wheezing or coughing – are a normal part of getting older. They’re not. The sooner COPD is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. That’s why it’s important to catch symptoms early. If you are a smoker or a former smoker anf you’re over 40, make sure to talk to your doctor about getting tested for COPD.

Can COPD be prevented?

Yes. Most of the time, COPD can be prevented. Since most cases of COPD are caused by smoking, people can prevent COPD by not smoking. Smokers can reduce their chance of getting COPD by quitting as soon as possible – it’s never too late to quit.

Can COPD be slowed down?

Yes. If you have COPD and smoke, you can slow down the COPD by quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to feel better.

How is COPD treated?

While there is no cure available for COPD, it is possible to slow down the disease and treat the symptoms.

The main treatments for COPD are:

  • quitting smoking, and staying away from smoky and polluted places.
  • taking medications, which may include pills, puffers, and supplemental oxygen
  • joining a pulmonary rehabilitation class, a specialised exercise program

How does COPD progress? What can I expect?

Some complications of COPD are:

  • recurring chest infections, including pneumonia, the flu, etc.
  • pulmonary hypertension: higher-than-usual blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs
  • Cor pulmonale: enlargement and strain on the right side of the heart. This can lead to heart failure.
  • irregular heart beat (arrhythmias)
  • respiratory failure

While COPD can be life threatening for advanced cases, many people can live for a long time with COPD after they are diagnosed.

Life Expectancy with COPD:

While no one can ever give a definitive answer to this question, one must consider:

  • what age you or your loved one was diagnosed at
  • how bad the lung damage is
  • whether the affected person keeps smoking, cuts back or quits (cutting back is a start, quitting is best!)
  • what kind of medical care and treatment the affected person has
  • what other health problems might accompany the diagnosis.

Getting the most out of life when you have COPD

If you have COPD and you smoke, it’s important to quit smoking. Work with your doctor to get proper care and treatment for COPD, so that you’ll live as long and as comfortable a life as possible. It’s also important to talk to your doctor and family about what kind of care you will need in future years, and what you can do now to get ready for the future. Many people with COPD enjoy a happy and productive life despite their disease.

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