Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used to describe several different progressive lung diseases characterized by long-term breathing problems and poor airflow.
TYPES OF COPD
Not all types of COPD are the same. Each affects how well different treatments work, how your symptoms affect daily life and how the disease progresses. If you have another health condition in addition to COPD such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, it can also affect your COPD and how it is managed. Because it is a progressive disease, COPD manifests itself through increased breathlessness that will typically worsen over time. Currently, it is incurable, but with the right diagnosis and treatment, you can manage everyday activities, such as walking or getting dressed, and breathe better. People can live for many years with COPD and enjoy life when they get proper care.
In this form, the tiny, delicate air sacs, called alveoli, in your lungs are damaged. The walls of the damaged air sacs become stretched out and your lungs get bigger, making it hard to move air in and out. Old air gets trapped inside the alveoli, leaving little or no room for new air to go. It’s harder to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.
This inflammation of the bronchial airways inside your lungs occurs when the cilia, the tiny, hair-like structures that line the airways, become damaged. Damaged cilia can’t sweep up mucus to keep your airways clean. This makes it harder for you to cough, so your airways are often swollen and clogged, making it hard to breathe. In this article, The Role of Breathing Exercises in the Treatment of COPD by American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) "Patients with COPD who are treated with breathing exercises vs. standard care showed an improvement in exercise capacity, with inconsistent changes in dyspnea and health-related quality of life."
Refractory (Non-Reversible) Asthma
Typically prescribed asthma medications do not work well on this type of asthma. In an asthma attack, bronchial airways tighten and swell. Medications can usually reverse this by returning the airways to normal. In refractory asthma, medications cannot reverse the tightening and swelling.
COPD SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
It’s easy to think that shortness of breath and coughing are a normal part of aging, but these could be signs of COPD. The disease can progress for years without noticeable shortness of breath. Symptoms are different ones, but common ones include:
- Increased shortness of breath
- Coughing with sputum production
- Tightness in the chest
Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of COPD, resulting in about 85 to 90 percent of cases. When a cigarette burns, it creates more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful. The toxins in tobacco smoke weaken your lungs’ defense against infections and cause an inflammatory response in the lungs, resulting in narrowing of the small airways and breakdown of lung tissue. Only about 20 to 30 percent of smokers develop COPD. The majority have other types of lung conditions, which is why it is important to get a full evaluation if you have difficulty breathing.
Environmental factors, such as the air you breathe daily at work, home and outside can also play a role in developing COPD. Long-term exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke and dust, fumes and chemicals can cause COPD. Even fumes from burning fuel from cooking and heating in poorly ventilated buildings can contribute to COPD.
Alpha-1 deficiency causes a rare form of COPD that affects a small number of people. This form of emphysema is caused by a genetic condition that affects the body’s ability to produce the Alpha-1 protein that affects the lungs. The protein is made in the liver and travels to the bloodstream to protect the lungs. Patients who have this type of COPD often have liver problems as well.
Diagnosis is based on poor airflow as measured by lung function tests. In contrast to asthma, the airflow reduction does not improve much with the use of a bronchodilator.
Tests may include:
- Lung function tests that measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and if your lungs are delivering enough oxygen to your blood. Spirometry is the most common test and can often detect COPD before you have symptoms. Other lung function tests include measures of lung volumes, diffusing capacity and pulse oximetry
- Chest X-ray, which can show emphysema and rule out other lung problems or heart failure
- Arterial blood gas analysis that measures how well your lungs bring oxygen into your blood and remove carbon dioxide
COMPLICATIONS FROM COPD
Patients with COPD can suffer a variety of complications. You may experience:
- Increased respiratory infections such as colds, pneumonia and the flu, making it even more difficult to breathe
- An increased risk of heart disease, including heart attack
- An increased risk of lung cancer
- High blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs
- Depression, if you can’t do normal activities
PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
Reducing exposure to risk factors can prevent most cases of COPD. While treatment can slow worsening, there is no cure. The most essential step in prevention and in any treatment plan is to stop all smoking, as it can eventually reduce your ability to breathe.
Other treatments include vaccinations, respiratory rehabilitation programs that combine education, exercise, nutrition advice and counseling and medications such as inhaled bronchodilators, inhaled or oral steroids, combination inhalers, theophylline and antbiotics. Some people may benefit from long-term oxygen therapy or lung transplantation. Patients who have periods of acute worsening may require increased use of medications and hospitalization as needed.
Dr. Kaur at VIVAA will discuss all the risk factors that are involved and then develop a personalized plan that can prevent the progression of COPD. She can help patients quit smoking with the help of medications and patches that, in turn, will slow down the worsening of COPD. Getting people back to their normal activity levels without shortness of breath is her goal. Contact us today for a consultation and to learn more about how we can serve your needs.
Contact us at VIVAA today for a no-obligation consultation at 425-250-9999.