Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease better known as COPD is a chronic obstructive disease of the lungs due to which the victims complain of chronically poor airflow. Most of the smokers suffer from this disease. Although it is not reversible, with proper care and management it can be kept in control for a long time.
In Australia, it is estimated that lung diseases account for at least 10 percent of the total number of diseases and lung cancer represents 40 percent of the deaths annually. Lung cancer and COPD are popular among older Australians. Lung diseases and respiratory problems constituted 1.26 percent of the total population in 2011-12. During that time, almost 65,224 persons were admitted to hospital which constituted about 70% of all hospitalization cases.
The COPD Awareness Day on November 19 attempts to raise awareness regarding COPD and what can be done in order to prevent it. The theme for 2014 is early detection and prevention of COPD. In this article, we take a close look at the disease, its symptoms and its treatment.
What is COPD?
As the name suggests, it is a chronic disease (i.e. a disease that is persistent over a longer period of time) of the lungs which is characterized by obstructive airflow. It is sometimes known as chronic obstructive lung disease or chronic obstructive airway disease. It falls under the broad category of respiratory diseases and share some common symptoms with chronic bronchitis and asthma. Medical conditions may worsen over time if proper care is not taken. Most of the smokers complain of COPD. Other factors like air pollution might trigger off the disease.
To explain COPD, we must first understand how our lungs function. The air that we breathe in passes through our windpipes called bronchial tubes or airways. They, then branch out into smaller and thinner tubes called bronchioles. These tubes are attached to small air sacs called alveoli. Oxygen passes through the walls of the air sacs into the blood while carbon dioxide moves from the blood to the air sacs. This is called gas exchange. Sometimes the air sacs lose their elasticity due to smoking and pollution. Further airways may be filled with mucus and the walls of the airways may be inflamed. All these lead to reduced gas exchange. When this happens, the person concerned complains of difficulty in breathing. This condition is called COPD.
Some of the classic symptoms of COPD include:
- Coughing usually known as smoker’s cough, it can persist for more than three months. Sputum production is high.
- Shortness of Breath is another common symptom of COPD. People suffering from COPD often complain of labored breathing and shortness of breath after heavy exercise or cardio-vascular activities like running, jogging and climbing stairs.
- Tightness of chest and wheezing (a continuous whistling sound produced during breathing) are some of the other symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Pulmonary Function Test also known as Spirometry is used to confirm COPD. Chest X-Ray along with blood count tests are conducted for severe cases. Bronchodilators are the primary medications used. Inhalers reduce the symptoms of shortness of breath and wheezing. However, it is unclear whether they have any effect on the progression of the disease.
Doctors point out that lifestyle management is the only way to reduce the symptoms. Quitting smoking is important. Keeping young adults from smoking can help to prevent COPD. Additionally, improving the quality of air is another way to manage. Further in some cases, nutritional treatment (diet and oral supplements) has proved to be beneficial for COPD patients who were also suffering from malnourishment.
Life expectancy of COPD patients can be determined by two ways:
- The GOLD measurement which divides the progression of the disease into 4 stages with stage 1 being the mildest and stage 4 being the severest form of the disease.
- Additionally, the BODE index (body mass, airflow obstruction, dyspnea and exercise capacity) is also used. There is, however, no hard and fast rule to predict the life expectancy of COPD patients.
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