COPD is a type of lung disease. If you have this condition, you cannot breathe normally, have fatigue, weakness, and chest tightness, and have persistent coughing. Smoking, exposure to environmental pollutants, and genetic factors cause COPD. Various diagnostic techniques help your doctor in evaluating the presence and severity of COPD. Your doctor may prescribe the treatment based on your condition.
What is COPD?
COPD or Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease is a chronic condition involving the lungs. It is a progressive disease, which means the severity of the disease increases with time. The patient has inflammation in the lungs that obstructs normal airflow. This results in difficulty breathing and other symptoms. If you are suffering from COPD, you have a high risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis results in COPD. There are various air sacs present in the lungs that carry the air to and from the lungs. In emphysema, there is damage to these air sacs.
Various tube-like structures are present in the lungs. These are known as bronchioles. Their function is to allow the passage of air during breathing. In chronic bronchitis, inflammation occurs in the inner lining of bronchioles.
What are the Symptoms of COPD?
You may have the following symptoms if you are suffering from COPD:
- A problem in breathing, especially if you are walking fast or doing other physical activities.
- A large amount of mucus, which is green, yellow, or colorless.
- Fatigue and weakness most of the time.
- Unexplained weight loss (in severe cases).
- Tightness in the chest.
- A whistling sound while you breathe (wheezing).
- Bluish fingernails or lips.
- Swelling in legs, ankles, and feet.
- Frequently recurring colds and respiratory infections.
You may also experience worsening of the symptoms during some days as compared to other days. Worsening of symptoms is known as exacerbations. This may last for several days.
When to see a doctor
You should book an appointment with the doctor if you:
- Have trouble breathing.
- Are coughing more than normal.
- Experience fever and notice a change in the color of mucus.
- Have any signs of respiratory infection.
- Have rapid heartbeat and bluish lips or fingernails.
- A feeling of dizziness and lightheadedness.
- Have difficulty in concentrating or feel foggy.
- Your symptoms do not improve even after taking medications.
What are the Causes of COPD?
COPD involves chronic obstruction of airways. Following are the causes of chronic airway obstruction:
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking is one of the most common causes of COPD. Exposure to chemicals and a cigarette’s smoke for a prolonged period may cause irreversible damage to the lungs. Secondhand smoke may also cause COPD.
- Exposure to the polluted environment: Exposing yourself to pollution may also cause COPD. You may also be exposed to chemical fumes, toxic substances, or dust during your occupation, which may lead to COPD.
- Genetic factors: There is a lung protection mechanism in the body. A protein, alpha-1-antitrypsin, regulates this mechanism. A low level of this protein, due to DNA abnormality, may cause COPD.
- Underlying diseases: Unmanaged lung diseases, such as asthma, may damage the lungs and cause COPD.
What are the Risk Factors for COPD?
Following are some of the risk factors for COPD:
- Smoking: You are at high risk for developing COPD if you smoke cigarettes. This risk will increase with the increasing number of cigarettes and the period of smoking.
- Genetics: Deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin increases your risk of developing COPD.
- Occupation: You are at high risk for developing COPD if you are in an occupation involving exposure to chemical fumes and toxic substances.
- Exposure to pollution: Exposure to pollutants, such as fumes of burning fuel or microparticles in the environment, increases your risk for COPD.
- Infection and other diseases: Conditions such as respiratory tract infection and asthma puts you at increased risk for COPD.
- Age: Although COPD may occur at any age, your risk for this disease increases if your age is 40 years or more.
How does a doctor Diagnose COPD?
Your doctor may diagnose COPD through the following methods:
- Physical examination: Your doctor may examine the signs and symptoms and inquire about your medical history, family history, and occupation.
- Lung function tests: Lung function tests help the doctor to determine the health status of your lungs. Your doctor will perform spirometry. This device measures the amount of air you breathe in and the force with which your lungs blow out the air. Your doctor may also perform a six-minute walk test and other tests for evaluating lung capacity.
- Imaging tests: Your doctor may also advise you for a chest X-ray and chest CT scan. These tests show the presence of emphysema, the extent of lung damage, and the presence of lung cancer.
- Laboratory analysis: Through the laboratory analysis, the doctor will determine if you have alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. This is important if you have a family history of COPD. Another analysis that you may undergo is the arterial blood gas analysis. This analysis measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide present in your blood.
What are the Treatments for COPD?
The doctor may prescribe you the following treatments:
- Medication: The doctor may prescribe bronchodilators. These are the drugs that will help you to breathe easily. Your prescription may also include steroids. These drugs reduce inflammation and will ease your symptoms. Other medications include theophylline and phosphodiesterase inhibitors that will improve your breathing. In case of respiratory tract infection, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics.
- Lung therapy: If your blood does not have enough oxygen, your doctor may deliver oxygen through various devices. If you have severe COPD, you may require a continuous supply of oxygen. Your doctor may also advise you to opt for a pulmonary rehabilitation program. This program includes exercises to strengthen your lungs, counseling for giving up smoking, and measures to improve your quality of life.
- Surgery: In case of severe COPD and emphysema, your doctor may recommend surgery. The surgery includes lung volume reduction surgery, bullectomy, and lung transplant. In lung volume reduction surgery, your doctor will remove the damaged lung tissues to make space for healthy tissues. In a bullectomy, the doctor clears the large spaces that occur due to damage of air sacs. If your lung is severely damaged, you may also have the option of a lung transplant.
How to Prevent COPD?
Following measures help you to prevent COPD:
- Quit smoking.
- Prevent exposure to chemical fumes, dust, and smoke.
- Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Visit your doctor for a regular check-up.
COPD is a chronic and progressive condition. Avoiding smoking helps you to prevent COPD and to worsen your condition. Medicines, lung therapy, and surgery help in managing COPD and improve your quality of life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the complications of COPD?
COPD may progress to cause lung cancer, heart problems, respiratory infections, depression, and high pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
Should I require oxygen during the shower?
If you have severe COPD and your doctor prescribes to wear oxygen in all activities, you should wear your oxygen while taking a shower.
How does exercise help in COPD?
Exercise improves your breathing, strengthens your respiratory muscles, and reduces your heart disease risk, depression, and high blood pressure. It also reduces the side effects of steroids.