COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as emphysema or a chronic bronchitis) is a disease that makes breathing hard for a person. The disease is progressive, which means it usually gets worse over time.
Worldwide Statistics of COPD Cases
According to the last report of World Health Organization on COPD (from the 1st of December 2017), the key statistics related to this disease are as followed:
- 251 million cases of COPD were registered worldwide in 2016.
- 3.17 million death cases on COPD were reported in 2015 (5% of all reported deaths worldwide in the corresponding year).
- Smoking (as well as secondhand smoking) has been reported as the primary cause of COPD.
Why Does It Appear?
Our lungs pass the air through bronchial tubes to thousands smaller bronchioles, which end with round air sacs called alveoli. These sacs are connected with small blood vessels.
Blood circulation provides the opportunity to get oxygen from the air we breathe in and to get rid of waste product called carbon dioxide (CO2). The process is actually called gas exchange and is one of the crucial operations of our body.
COPD is a state of our lungs, that obstructs the healthy gas exchange because of one or more of the following reasons:
- The loss of elastic quality of alveoli
- Damaged or destructed walls between many of alveoli
- Thick and inflamed bronchioles and alveoli are getting
- The over production of mucus (slimy substance inside lungs), clogging the airways
The main cause of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is smoking. According to the National Institute of Health (U.S.A.), there is a straight dependence between smoking and experiencing the COPD: up to 75% of patients diagnosed with COPD used to smoke or still smoke.
Secondhand smokers (persons who breath the cigarette smoke although they do not smoke by themselves) are also taking higher risks of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Air pollution with different types of chemical fumes or dusts has been also proved to cause COPD. The environmental risks are usually taken by people who work or live in highly contaminated regions.
Symptoms of COPD
Mild symptoms of COPD can be very similar to some other diseases and conditions. Only a doctor can diagnose COPD properly, but here are some symptoms, which should attract your attention and motivate you to visit your physician for further instructions:
- A continuous ongoing cough
- Cough with a lot of mucus (so called “smoker's cough”)
- Breath shortness, especially when you practice any physical activity
- Noticing some unusual noises while breathing: wheezing, whistling or squeaky sounds
- Tightness in the chest
Severe COPD symptoms are usually met within worse disease stages and can include:
- Swelling in the ankles, legs or feet
- Notable loss of weight
- Progressive descent of muscle endurance
There is also a list of symptoms, which require an immediate hospitalization. If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, try to seek emergency help as soon as possible:
- Notable problems while catching breath or talking
- Lips or fingernails are turning blue or gray (that is the sign of a dangerously low oxygen level in blood)
- Inability to stay mentally alert
- Very fast heartbeat
- Complications while taking a recommended treatment for milder symptoms
Prevention of COPD
The proven way to prevent COPD is to avoid smoking and air pollution including chemical fumes, dusts or secondhand smoking. Even if you already have COPD diagnosed, quitting smoking is crucial and urgent for reliving symptoms and decreasing death risks.
Do not hesitate to consult your physician and ask about the vaccines, which can grant you an additional protection against influenza, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. The vaccines can substantially lower the chances of getting extra diseases, which provide major risks for COPD patients.
Diagnosis of COPD
It is of the primary importance to diagnose the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as early as possible. Early diagnosis gives much more opportunities to minimize symptoms, as well as death risks. It means, that you should consult your physician as soon as you have mild symptoms of COPD and must not wait until you get severe or even hospitalization symptoms.
Essentially, there are 3 types of tests for COPD diagnosis, and none of them is painful. These tests are: a pulmonary function test called spirometry, a chest X-ray screening, and arterial blood gas test.
Spirometry is the main test used to measure lung function, as well as lung diffusion capacity. It means, that the test provides doctors with the opportunity to measure how successful are your lungs in delivering oxygen to your blood and further to other organs of the body.
The measurement process is pretty simple for a patient. You will need to take a deep breath and then blow into a tube of spirometer as hard as you can.
Surprisingly, thanks to spirometry doctors are able to detect COPD even before the first symptoms could be seen.
A chest X-ray (or chest CT scan) is a unique and multipurpose method of diagnostic. It gives your physician the full and clear picture of lungs, heart and blood vessels in this area.
The result of chest X-ray can show the real reasons for the symptoms, or can reflect the important additional information about the disease flow. It is of primary importance to keep an eye on the condition of heart and blood vessels, if you already have the COPD diagnosed.
Arterial blood gas test
An arterial blood gas test measures the oxygen level in your blood. That is why the sample should be taken directly from an artery (in contrast with lots of other blood tests, which are usually taken from a vein).
Your level of oxygen has clear signs for a doctor, which help to determine the COPD stage precisely. Moreover, this test shows, whether you might need an oxygen therapy.
Treatment of COPD
Unfortunately, the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is incurable nowadays. However, there are good news: people with COPD can live a full life and minimize the death risks of the disease significantly.
The main goals of COPD treatment are:
- Symptom relief
- Reduction of the disease progression
- Ability to stay fit and active
- Complications prevention
- Overall health and immunity strengthen
The main instrument of COPD treatment is the proper lifestyle. However, there are some other options for more complicated COPD cases and stages, including medicines, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and surgery.
The common instructions of a proper lifestyle for COPD patients are:
- Obligatorily quit smoking
- Avoid secondhand smoking, toxic substances, dusts and fumes
- Consult your doctor on a proper nutrition plan
- Keep yourself physically active (your physician can help you to choose the right types of activities)
Bronchodilators represent the group of drugs commonly prescribed for the patients with COPD. The medicine helps to open airways and brings easier breathing.
Bronchodilators can also be prescribed with the combination of steroids. This combination is often used in cases, when a patient experiences airway inflammation.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a complex program, including proper physical exercises, psychological help, disease management training, and nutritional consultations.
The main goal of the program is to keep a patient active and healthy despite of the disease. It is also very important to teach a patient to overcome his or her everyday challenges independently.
Oxygen therapy is called to provide COPD patients with a needed level of oxygen in blood. This action has the primary importance, because all organs of our body need oxygen to function properly.
The therapy helps people with COPD to cope with their everyday tasks, to sleep better and to live longer.
Surgery remains the last resort for any type of disease, and COPD is not an exception. Surgery is usually used in cases of severe COPD states and in cases, when medication would not help and the symptoms are continuously worsening.
The following types of surgery are used to help severe COPD patients:
- Bullectomy: removing of bullae (large spaces of damaged or destroyed alveoli, that disturb breathing)
- Lung volume reduction surgery: removing damaged tissues from lungs
- Lung transplant: removing the damaged lung and replacing it with a healthy one from a donor
Although chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a very serious condition, it is not a death sentence, especially when it is diagnosed on early stages. Therefore, the health check is crucial and can really save lives.
Listen to your body and stay healthy!