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Learn About COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe normally and gets worse over time. Ongoing damage to the lungs causes the disease, and it is most common in people with a long history of smoking because the tobacco smoke irritates and damages the fibers in the lungs.

People with COPD have inflamed airways that produce more mucus than usual, leading to narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing. It also affects the tiny air sacs in the lungs, which become more rigid and cannot expand or contract as you breathe in and out, which can make you feel short of breath.

The damage to the lungs in patients with COPD cannot be reversed and, if exposure to the irritant such as cigarette smoke, dust or air pollution continues, the symptoms will progressively get worse. However, there are several ways to prevent further damage and help you to manage the symptoms of the disease.

Symptoms

The symptoms of COPD are usually mild in the early stages of the disease and gradually progress to become more inhibitive as time goes on. Symptoms may include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Mucus present when coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath (worsens during physical activity)

As the symptoms become more severe, shortness of breath may become problematic even for simple tasks such as getting dressed or other parts of your daily routine. This can then lead to loss of weight and weakness.

Occasionally a COPD exacerbation may occur, which is a flare up of symptoms for a period of time. Depending on the case, this can be quite mild or life threatening, particularly for people who have had COPD for a long time.

Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of the disease, such as shortness of breath and chronic coughing, your doctor will start by asking you about a history of smoking or exposure to other irritants. Most patients are diagnosed over the age of 60 and have a long history of smoking or exposure to chemical fumes, air pollution or dust.

There are several breathing tests that can help to diagnose COPD. Your doctor may listen to your lungs to hear how you breathe. Spirometry is a specialized breathing test that measures the function of your lungs to diagnose COPD.

It is important for COPD to be diagnosed as soon as possible, as steps can then be taken to prevent further damage and reduce the symptoms of the disease.

Treatment

The first step in the treatment of the COPD is to prevent further damage to the lungs and progression of the disease. Quitting smoking should be the main priority for smokers in the beginning, as this will help to prevent more lung damage.

There are also several medical treatments that can help to reduce the severity of symptoms and to improve your breathing. Most are administered with an inhaler so that you breathe in the medication and they work directly on your lungs. It’s important to know how to use an inhaler correctly to ensure that you get the most benefit out of the medication. We can help you learn how to do this and demonstrate how to use it in the clinic.

For patients with more severe disease, administration of oxygen can also help at times when breathing is more difficult. As people with COPD are more likely to get lung infections, being vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia can help to reduce the severity of these infections if you do get them.
What else can you do?
There are several other things you can do to increase your quality of life and help you to live well. You can:

  • Avoid irritants such as smoke, fumes and air pollution
  • Use an air filter at home
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthily

These things help your body to stay strong and healthy so that you can fight off infections and live a more fulfilled life. Your doctor will also give you an action plan so that you know what steps to take if you have a flare-up of COPD and your symptoms are getting worse. If you are having difficulty breathing, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Want to know more?

If you think that you may have symptoms of COPD, it is important that you talk to medical professional as soon as possible to start taking action. At Central Arkansas Lung, we will be happy to give you personalized and professional advice about treatment options and how you can live well with COPD.

Simply call us if you’d like more information or to organize an appointment to discuss your symptoms.

Further Reading

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx
http://patient.info/health/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-leaflet
https://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html

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