Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is a cluster of lung diseases that are progressive. The conditions falling under this cluster are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Many people suffer from both these diseases.
Emphysema is a condition that damages the air sacs present in the lungs, causing interference with the flow of air that is exhaled. In contrast, chronic bronchitis causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes. In this condition, the bronchial tubes narrow down, and there’s a buildup of mucus.
One of the most common causes associated with COPD is smoking tobacco. In some cases, exposing your lungs to chemical irritants for a prolonged duration can also cause COPD. This disease takes a while to develop.
Various imaging tests, lung tests, and blood tests are conducted to diagnose the condition.
Although a cure for COPD is yet to be found, some coping treatments can ease the symptoms, reduce complications, and improve the quality of life. Several types of medications, surgery, and oxygen therapy form part of COPD treatment.
If left untreated, the condition can progress at a rapid rate and lead to heart diseases and worsen respiratory infections.
According to estimation, around 30 million of the country’s population is suffering from COPD, and more than half of them do not know that they have it.
Symptoms of COPD and when you should see a doctor
One of the most common symptoms of COPD is labored breathing. In the initial days, the symptoms might be mild. As they start showing, the first signs would be intermittent coughing along with breathlessness. When the condition progresses, the symptoms begin to become more persistent, and it can make it extremely difficult to breathe.
Symptoms of the condition also include wheezing and experiencing chest tightness. Excess production of sputum is also among the many symptoms of COPD. In some cases, acute exacerbations can also be experienced, intensifying the severity of the symptoms.
In the first phase, the symptoms are mild. Therefore, most patients confuse it with the common cold. The signs at this stage can include the following:
- Occasional breathlessness, occurring after workout sessions
- Cough that might not be severe but persistent
- A need to clear the throat right after waking up in the morning
As a result of these symptoms, the patients start to introduce small changes in their lifestyle, such as avoiding physical activities and climbing stairs.
With the disease’s progression, the symptoms start to get severe and cannot be ignored anymore. When the lungs suffer extreme damage, the patients begin experiencing the following symptoms:
- Breathlessness caused by mild physical activities, such as climbing the stairs
- Wheezing experienced commonly during exhalations
- Tightness in the chest
- Chronic cough that may or may not produce phlegm
- A constant need to clear mucus from the chest daily
- Frequently occurring respiratory infections, such as the flu and cold
When the condition progresses, the symptoms of COPD include the following:
- Swelling in legs, feet, or ankles
- Loss in body weight
The patient should be rushed to a doctor if he/she experiences any of the following:
- Lips or fingernails turning blue or gray, due to lowered oxygen levels in the body
- Problems catching breath and speaking
- Confusion or loss of consciousness
- Racing heart
The severity of the symptoms increases when the patient is a smoker or is exposed to passive smoke.
The symptoms of COPD do not become severe until severe damage to the lungs has been caused. It is a common practice for most people to ignore the early or mild symptoms of the condition. However, this can prove to be extremely harmful to one’s lungs. Therefore, it is essential to identify the early symptoms and see a doctor.
The early symptoms of COPD that one needs to watch out for include the following:
- Persistent cough
This is one of the most common early signs of COPD. The cough is chronic or persistent and is caused by a response of your body to prevent your airways from irritants, which you might have inhaled. Cough is a natural response of your lungs to get rid of any irritants. However, if the cough becomes persistent, it means that the lungs are not functioning normally.
- Increased production of mucus
Increased production of mucus or phlegm is another common early sign of COPD. Mucus is produced by the lungs to discard and keep out inhaled irritants.
In breathing, problems usually occur when the lungs are putting in more effort than normal to inhale and exhale the air.
- During the early phases of COPD, breathlessness can only be experienced after physical activity.
- Tiredness or fatigue
This is another common early symptom experienced by people with COPD. If you are suffering from the condition, you might start noticing that you get tired quickly and more frequently than before.
Causes of COPD
In many countries, such as the USA, the biggest cause of COPD is cigarette smoking.. As many as 90% of COPD patients are either current or former smokers.
Out of people who have been smoking for a long time, about 20-30% get COPD. The remaining either develop a condition affecting the lungs or experience reduced function of the lungs.
Most people suffering from COPD are at least 40 years old and carry some history of smoking. The higher the consumption of tobacco through smoke, the higher is the risk of developing the condition. What causes COPD is not only cigarettes but also cigars, pipes, and passive smoke.
People who have asthma and yet smoke are more prone to the condition. Workplace hazards can also be a cause of COPD. If one is exposed to fumes and chemicals at work, their chances of getting COPD increases. Inhaling air pollutants and dust for long durations can also cause COPD.
In several developed countries, poor home ventilation is also a common cause of COPD. When the fumes generated from fuel-burning while cooking or heating do not leave the house the way they should, the family members can end up inhaling them and can get COPD.
An estimate of 5% of COPD patients suffers from the deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin, which is a protein. When this protein is deficient in the body, it affects the health of the lungs. It can also have an impact on the liver.
There are various steps involved in finding out if a person suffers from COPD. The steps include visiting and consulting a doctor and then getting some tests done, which will be ordered by the doctor. Most of these tests are easy and do not cause any pain.
When one visits the doctor, they will first be asked about their medical history, the symptoms that they are experiencing, and the duration of those symptoms.
Once they have shared this information with the doctor, they will be asked about their smoking habits, as it is the most common cause of COPD. Also, the patient must disclose their family history of the condition, if any.
Once the doctor has examined the patient, he/she will order some tests. Many conditions are often confused with COPD, such as asthma and bronchiectasis. Besides, there are rare lung conditions that can be affecting smokers, and which can be easily confused with COPD.
These tests can include the following:
- Test using a stethoscope
The doctor will place a stethoscope on the patient’s chest to check for any abnormal sounds, such as wheezing. Depending on what the doctor will find out during this test, they will order further tests.
It is a test to check the amount of air one’s lungs are able to inhale and exhale. Spirometry is among the most common tests to check the lungs’ functioning, and it is also considered to be the best test to check for COPD. It is an easy test and does not hurt. During the test, a mouthpiece, which will be connected to a machine, will be given to the patient. They will be asked to take a deep breath and then blow hard into the mouthpiece. The machine to which the mouthpiece is connected is known as a spirometer, and it records the speed at which one’s lungs are blowing out air. With the help of the results of this test, it is easy to diagnose COPD even in patients whose symptoms are yet to show. Other health problems in the heart and lungs can also be diagnosed with this test.
An X-ray of the chest is conducted to check if there are any abnormalities in the lungs. It can be used to diagnose COPD and several other conditions.
- CT scan
This gives a more detailed report than an X-ray. The patient is asked to lie down on a table that goes inside a CT scanner, which is in the shape of a tunnel. The total time taken for the scan will be around 30 minutes.
There is no cure for the condition. However, the treatment plan is focused on easing the symptoms and preventing any complications from the condition. The remedies also aim at slowing down the progression of the disease. To chalk out a COPD–treatment plan, a team of doctors consisting of a lung specialist, a physical therapist, and a respiratory therapist, will help.
The treatment for COPD include the following:
The medications usually given to treat the condition are bronchodilators. With the help of these medicines, the doctors can provide relaxation to the airway muscles and widen the airways. This can improve breathing. The drug is usually administered using a nebulizer or an inhaler. Also, the doctors would want to reduce the chances of respiratory infections for which they will ask the patient to get a flu shot once a year; a pneumococcal vaccine or a tetanus booster can also be ordered.
- Oxygen therapy
In cases where the blood oxygen levels fall below the normal levels, the patients will need supplemental oxygen. This will be provided with the help of a nasal cannula or a mask.
This is the last option for patients who suffer severe COPD, or who have not responded to any other treatment. This usually happens when a person suffers a severe form of emphysema.
One of the types of surgeries used as a treatment for COPD is known as bullectomy. With the help of this surgery, the abnormal and large air spaces can be removed from the lungs.
Lung volume reduction surgery is another option. In this procedure, the upper tissue of the lung, which is damaged, will be removed.
In some cases, a lung transplant is also an option.
Foods for COPD patients
Although there is no specific diet for COPD patients, a balanced and healthy eating can go a long way in keeping you healthy. When your body is strong, you will be able to prevent any kind of complications arising from the condition.
You can include various nutritional foods in your diet, such as the following:
- Dairy products
Keep your body hydrated all the time. You have to make sure that you are taking enough non-caffeinated drinks, which will help in keeping your mucus thin. It can also play a huge role in making it easy to cough the mucus out.