COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) covers a variety of progressive lung diseases. It can occur due to Emphysema and chronic bronchitis. We consider COPD a progressive disease, but it is treatable. You can control your symptoms well if you seek correct and timely treatment.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease that results in obstruction of the airflow from the lungs. With this disease, you will experience difficulty breathing and experience excessive mucus-filled bouts of coughing.
The main cause of COPD is smoking tobacco. COPD disease can also lead to other serious diseases like heart disease and lung cancer. COPD is not a terminal illness. Although it doesn’t have a cure, it can be managed successfully with early diagnosis.
Initially, symptoms do not appear. Then later, you might observe the following symptoms:
- Persistent cough
- Tightness in the chest
- Blue fingernails
- Sudden weight loss
- Being unable to breathe deeply
- Excessive mucus while coughing
- Wheezing or squeaking while speaking
- Frequent colds or flu-like symptoms
- Swelling in the feet
You can get different types of COPD as follows:
With Emphysema, the air sacs of your lungs (alveoli) become damaged. Separate alveoli merge into a single one. It results in deficient oxygen absorption, which causes a shortage of oxygen in your blood.
If you have mucus-ridden coughing, experience frequent breathlessness and have mucus accumulation for 3-month periods for two years consecutively, you could have chronic bronchitis. It is caused by deficient or absent cilia, the hair-like fibres in your bronchial tubes that aid in draining the mucus from your airway.
Refractory asthma is a form of asthma, also known as non-reversible asthma. It doesn’t respond to regular asthma medications. It is a rarer cause of COPD but eventually leads to this disease.
COPD is mainly caused by tobacco smoking. You can also get it from passive smoking (smoke from another’s cigarette). It can also occur from prolonged exposure to fumes and smoke in poorly-ventilated kitchens. Exposure to a hazardous atmosphere, especially in an occupationally hazardous environment, can result in COPD. Then, there are some rare cases of genetically acquired COPD.
For diagnosing COPD, your health provider will assess the condition of your lungs and your health condition. They will also conduct a physical exam and check your breathing. Here’s what they will look at:
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions like:
- Are you a smoker?
- Do any of your family members have COPD?
- How long have you been wheezing or coughing?
- What is your exposure level to atmospheric pollutants or dust?
- Do you experience breathlessness with or without physical exertion?
- Are you coughing up phlegm?
You will have to undergo a physical exam, including the following:
- Blood pressure and heart pulse rate check
- Check ankles and feet for swelling
- Check your heart and lungs with a stethoscope
- Nose and throat examination
To diagnose COPD, the following tests may have to be carried out:
- Spirometry (you blow into a tube connected to a machine)
- Arterial blood gases test (ABGs)
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Chest X-ray or CT scan
- Treadmill test (your blood oxygen level will be tested while you exercise)
COPD treatment includes a variety of drugs combined with therapy and, in extreme cases, lung surgery. Here is the gist of the line of treatment following COPD diagnosis:
- Anti-inflammatory medications to be inhaled or taken as an oral pill
- Antibiotics (in case of lung infection)
- Anticholinergics (helps to relax the muscles of the airways and clear mucus from the lungs)
- Expectorants (cough syrups that thin the mucus in the airways)
- Antivirals (if the illness is caused by a viral infection)
- Bronchodilators (Medicine to relax your airways)
- Supplemental oxygen
- Leukotriene modifiers (reduces the effect of leukotriene, a chemical produced in the body that tightens the airways and promotes mucus production)
- Antihistamines (anti-allergic medication used to treat coughing and sneezing)
- Rehabilitation (a COPD rehabilitation programme will teach you how to breathe better considering the reduced function of your lungs)
- Lung surgery (if your COPD is an extreme case)
Risk factors for COPD include:
If you are a smoker, you carry a high risk of getting COPD. The more you smoke, the higher the COPD risk factors. You can also get COPD from pipes, cigars, and even passive smoking.
Asthmatic patients carry a high risk of it developing COPD. If you smoke and have asthma, the risk is even greater.
If you work in an environment of heavy pollution, dust, high particulate matter, or volatile fumes, you stand the risk of contracting COPD.
Exposure to fumes and smoke from cooking
Working in a poorly-ventilated kitchen can generate unhealthy fumes and smoke. If you inhale this unhealthy air over a long period, you have a high chance of getting COPD.
COPD causes can also be due to genetic reasons. A rare genetic disorder called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can lead to COPD.
If you are a smoker, quitting is the best way to prevent COPD. Even if you don’t smoke, you might experience exposure to poor quality, contaminated air. So, avoid exposing yourself to hazardous environments.
Use protective gear if your work compels you to expose yourself to airborne contaminants (solid particles in the air) or volatile fumes. If your family has a history of COPD, you are in the risk group. Get yourself checked regularly. Getting vaccinated annually for flu and pneumococcal pneumonia can boost your immunity against COPD.
COPD is preventable if caused by smoking or exposure to hazardous air. However, if you are prone to this disease, it can happen even if you don’t smoke. Taking preventive measures as outlined above is important if you are in a risk group.
If you experience COPD symptoms, visit our Department of Pulmonology at the CK Birla Hospital or book an appointment with Dr Kuldeep Grover. Our Department of Pulmonology is a high-end unit with state-of-the-art equipment to provide you with compassionate care and a speedy recovery.