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What is COPD?*
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung condition — ranging from mild to severe — that is characterized by difficulty breathing and restricted airflow into and out of the lungs. COPD is an umbrella term encompassing chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema among other lung conditions.
Without the proper intake of oxygen, the rest of your body suffers. It becomes difficult to physically exert yourself and, eventually, to perform simple tasks like walking. Additionally, COPD causes high blood pressure and leads to heart disease. Because COPD is a progressive disease, these problems grow worse over time.
COPD has no cure, but medical treatment may help assist with the ability to breathe. It’s important to know the symptoms of COPD, especially if you are a smoker since addressing the issue in its early stages is more manageable.
What Are the Symptoms of COPD?
Since COPD is a progressive disease, the symptoms may take a while to develop. In its earliest stages, patients may notice frequent coughing with mucus for months or years.
Please, seek medical assistance for COPD if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Daily coughing
- Frequently coughing up mucus
- Loss of breath
- Tightness of the chest
- Swollen feet, ankles and legs
- A noticeable increase in respiratory infections
- A bluish hue of the lips or fingernail beds
- Uncontrollable weight loss
Some of these symptoms, such as the uncontrollable weight loss or the bluish hue of the lips, do not develop until the disease is in its later stages of progression. If you haven’t already seen a medical professional about your symptoms up to this point, please get assistance immediately.
What Are the Causes of COPD?
The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoke. If you are a smoker, if you have ever smoked or if you have been exposed to second-hand smoke, you have an increased risk of developing COPD. However, some smokers never display symptoms of COPD. Additional elements, such as genetics, diet or lifestyle habits, may factor in more toward the development of COPD alongside smoking. It is possible, though rare, for COPD to develop in patients due to a genetic deficiency of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin.
Furthermore, prolonged exposure to breathing dust, chemicals, smoke and asbestos is linked to the development of COPD. If you work in environments such as these or if you are a smoker, and you’re displaying symptoms of COPD, you should seek immediate medical assistance.
How is COPD diagnosed?
Some of the symptoms of COPD overlap with symptoms of other diseases. Your physician will perform some tests, examine your symptoms, review your personal and family medical history and ask questions about your lifestyle and smoking habits.
Some of the tests your physician may order include:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- Pulmonary function test
- Blood-gas analysis
If it is apparent that your symptoms may be the result of another condition, your physician will likely order more tests for an accurate diagnosis. Diagnosing and treating COPD in its earlier stages may allow for a wider range of treatment options, so it’s important for your physician to perform these tests and not misdiagnose you COPD as something else.
How is COPD treated?
COPD is not curable. The objective of treatment is to assist with managing its symptoms. The first and most important component of managing your COPD is to quit smoking. If you are still smoking when your COPD is diagnosed, then quitting alone may hinder the disease’s progression, especially if the disease is diagnosed in its early stages. Depending on the severity of your COPD, your overall health and other factors, your COPD treatment may include some of the following:
- Bronchodilators – these are medications that can help relax airways and improve your ability to breathe
- Steroids – these may reduce inflammation development in the airways
- Antibiotics – these help treat lung infections that may aggravate your COPD
- Oxygen therapy – this is supplemental oxygen, which may be prescribed for certain times of the day or throughout the entire day depending on the lack of oxygen your COPD is causing
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – this includes exercising, counseling and nutritional guidance to help improve your lifestyle and reduce the amount of time you spend in a hospital with COPD symptoms.
In extreme cases, surgery may be required to remove damaged tissue. Lung transplants may also be an option for those who qualify. For questions about who qualifies for a lung transplant, you should speak with your primary care provider.
Is COPD preventable?
Smoking cigarettes is the number one cause of COPD, so if you never smoke or if you quit smoking, your chances of developing COPD are reduced.
Furthermore, if you work in dusty environments, you need to wear proper safety equipment and follow safety instructions. In cases of protein deficiency, there is not much you can do to prevent COPD. However, these cases are much rarer than COPD caused by smoking or lung irritants.
We’re Here To Help
Would you like to speak with a Patient Care Specialist at Centers for Respiratory Health about COPD? Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or would like to know more about prevention, we’re available to talk with you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.