COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a term commonly used for a group of lung conditions including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory asthma. The disease is mainly characterized by severe breathing difficulty and coughing.
How Prevalent is COPD?
In the United States, almost 26 million people are affected with COPD. It’s considered to be the third leading cause of death in developed countries. It has been observed that more than 50 percent of adults are not aware they have COPD. The actual figure for people suffering with the disease is thought to be way beyond the number reported.
The following groups are more susceptible to the disease:
- Aged people above 60 years
- Individuals who are unemployed, retired or unable to work
- People in low income groups
- Current or former smokers
- Those with a family history of asthma
Factors Responsible for COPD
It’s commonly concluded that tobacco smoke is the principal cause of the development of COPD. Other than tobacco, people who have long term exposure to air pollutants in the home and the workplace can also be affected with COPD.
Apart from the main cause, some of the secondary risk factors related to the development of COPD include:
- Family history
- Pre-term birth
Initially, the condition may go on without any signs and symptoms. The disease may worsen due to long term exposure of the lungs to irritants. The signs and symptoms of COPD patients may include:
- An ongoing cough, containing mucus, generally known as the smoker’s cough
- Shortness of breath, especially after physical activity with a wheezing sound
- Tightness of chest
- Attacks of flu-like symptoms
Sometimes symptoms are more severe, depending upon the lung damage. They may include:
- Swelling of feet, ankles or legs
- Low muscle endurance
- Severe breathlessness
- Lips or fingernails may turn blue or grey depending upon the oxygen level in the body
- Rapid heartbeat
Prognosis Associated with COPD
Based on the signs and symptoms, the diagnosis will be confirmed. Some of the medical tests that can be prescribed along with counseling for family history, habits, etc.:
- Lung Function Test
- Chest X-Ray/CT Scan
As with conventional treatments, there is no permanent cure available for the disease. Short term goals, however, are available to check the effectiveness of the treatment such as:
- Relieving symptoms
- Slowing the progress of the disease
- Improving exercise efficiency
- Preventing and treating the complications
What Goes Wrong with COPD?
It’s important to know how our respiratory system works to understand COPD. Every time we breathe in, oxygenated air is passed into our bronchial tubes via windpipes. These bronchial tubes are further branched into various tiny passages, known as bronchioles. These bronchioles open into air sacs inside the lung. These air sacs are known as alveoli. They act as balloons; after inhalation, they get stretched and filled with oxygenated air whereas during the process of exhalation; these alveoli shrink back.
These alveoli are made up of many tiny blood vessels called capillaries, which supply oxygenated blood to different parts of the body. Air sacs and airways lose their elasticity to stretch and compress. The walls of the air sacs are damaged due to long term exposure. The walls of the alveoli get thickened and inflamed. Thus, for people with COPD, the flow of oxygenated air is obstructed. Due to the deprivation of oxygen, COPD may give rise to many associated complications.