So, What is COPD? Amongst the most common lung diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease causes the patient to experience difficulty in breathing, especially while exhaling. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two broad forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Chronic bronchitis afflicts its patients with long coughing spells accompanied by mucus. Emphysema, on the other hand, gradually destroys the lungs over a period of time. People suffering from COPD are usually smokers and have a combination of these two types in varying degrees. Smoking is among the primary instigators of these conditions.
What is COPD: Symptoms
Shortness of breath (dyspnea) which worsens with any physical activity; cough accompanied by mucus; wheezing; repetitive respiratory infections like influenza; and common cold and fatigue are amongst the most common symptoms of COPD.
Because these symptoms develop over a long period of time it becomes difficult for people to realize that they might have COPD. Instead of getting to the root of the problem causing their symptoms, people tend to treat the symptoms and ignore the underlying problem.
What is COPD: Emphysema and Bronchitis
A significant percentage of people suffering from COPD have earlier been diagnosed with emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Some of these people might even have been diagnosed for both conditions. A person suffering from chronic bronchitis experiences inflammation and narrowing of the airways along with increased production of mucus.
This results in the person coughing and wheezing very frequently. Emphysema damages the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs in the lungs. This reduces the useful surface area of the lungs which exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen. The damage to the alveoli might also trap air inside and make it difficult for the person to exhale causing severe shortness of breath.
What is COPD: Risk Factors
The risk of contracting COPD increases if a person is exposed to chemical fumes, dust, tobacco smoke and air pollution in general, over a long period of time. Age is another factor which increases the risk of COPD.
For a lot of people, symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease start appearing by the age of 40. Scientists suspect that genetics might also be one of the causes of COPD with alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a rare genetic disorder, causing some cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
People suffering from COPD are more likely to suffer from other respiratory infections like pneumonia which can worsen the condition of the lungs and make breathing even more difficult. If people diagnosed with COPD also suffer from high blood pressure, the right ventricle in their hearts may be under increased strain.
This strain causes severe swelling in the legs and ankles of patients. COPD is also known to increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and depression among patients. The inability to lead normal lives and engage in the physical activities they enjoy due to the difficulty in breathing causes varying levels of depression in people, lowering their quality of life.
What is COPD: Treatment
Medical science hasn’t been able to find a permanent cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but there are treatments which can improve breathing and control the other symptoms making life for patients a more comfortable. Common treatments for COPD include antibiotics to treat infection, inhaled steroids, and oxygen therapy.
For people suffering from severe emphysema, surgery may have to be performed if medications have failed to control the symptoms. In the most extreme cases of emphysema, the patient’s lung might need to be transplanted if nothing else works. However, for these treatments to work, people suffering from COPD who also smoke have to quit smoking or they risk worsening their condition.
Severe symptoms or an advanced stage of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease might require the patients to be hospitalized. Immediate medical attention must be sought if people suffering from COPD experience unusual difficulty in breathing or notice their lips or fingernails turn blue.
What is COPD: Advanced Stages
COPD can make life very difficult for people, especially when it is in an advanced stage. People suffering from COPD must do their best to look after their health and control the symptoms. They should follow a healthy lifestyle by regularly exercising, eating healthy, avoiding smoking and regularly following up with their doctor and their treatment schedule. Patients must also take care to avoid crowded areas and cold air as much as possible.
If you are taking care of someone suffering from COPD, you could benefit by getting involved in a relevant support group. Meeting other people experiencing similar circumstances could help you learn new things that you might find useful. These groups also tend to provide great emotional and psychological support that helps enormously in handling such a difficult situation.
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