Do you cough violently and frequently? Do you find yourself short of breath often? Are you a regular smoker who coughs a lot? You just might be suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) without even knowing it. COPD, commonly known as chronic obstructive airway disease (COAD) or chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD) is a specific kind of obstructive lung disease which doctors define by a chronically weak flow of air. The list of ICD 9 codes for diseases of the respiratory system indicates that COPD can range from code 490 to 496. Unfortunately, the condition becomes worse and worse with time, and the majority of people who have chronic bronchitis also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The pathophysiology of COPD begins with harmed airways and lungs, developing into a mucus-filled cough and results in breathing difficulties.
The statistics regarding COPD are quite upsetting; studies show that over 3,000,000 individuals died as a result of this disease – and that’s just the 2012 data. That means approximately 6% out of all reasons for deaths around the world in 2012. Yikes! It also seems that women are more prone to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as two times as many females tend to develop chronic bronchitis as men. If you are a United States resident dwelling in the Midwest or the Southeast, you also have a higher risk of developing COPD, rather than if you live in states such as Minnesota or Washington. Research has also proven that, naturally, tobacco smoke is the leading cause for developing this disease, which is incurable, but can be maintained under control with the help of treatment. Let’s try to better understand this condition so we can detect it in time and treat it properly before it worsens.
First of all, how do you know if you are suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Almost everybody catches colds every once in a while, the majority of cases involving severe coughing. But what exactly is the difference between an average cold and the life-threatening COPD? You should know a shortness of breath is almost the definition of COPD, in which you feel that you are not getting enough oxygen into your system. Likewise, sputum is a frequent sign of COPD (a substance which consists of mucus and saliva), as well as chronic coughing. An individual with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will find difficulty in a wide range of physical activities, even the most simplest ones, like walking up stairs. And the difficulties only worsen in time.
Aside from these key symptoms, you might be experiencing COPD if you feel a tightness in your chest, experience constant infections in your respiratory system and find yourself frequently wheezing. Moreover, if you have to clear your throat, especially when you wake up in the morning, or if you find yourself at a loss of energy you might also be a COPD patient. Another sign of this disease is cyanosis, a phenomenon which causes fingernails or lips to become blue. The later stages of COPD also present involuntary weight loss as one of the main symptoms.
Specialists have also detected that patients undergo exacerbations, which are periods of time in which the side-effects become more sever and tend to last longer. All in all, research points out that continuous coughing is one of the leading signs of chronic bronchitis and, subsequently, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. How do you know if you are suffering from chronic bronchitis? The condition is defined by having a constant cough for 3 months per year at the least, for 2 years one after the other.
So what does it take for you to be certain you have COPD and not just an acute cough? First of all, you need to take some tests and consult your doctor for a professional diagnosis. He or she will take into consideration the results of your tests, your symptoms and family / medical history. The discussion with your doctor will also involve questions like: Do you smoke or often inhale secondhand smoke? Have you come into contact with chemical fumes or any other lung irritants? When talking with your doctor you should also be able to provide him with the amount of time you have been coughing and other signs. A stethoscope is commonly used for diagnosis, in order to detect abnormalities in your chest area.
Your doctor might continue attempting to pinpoint the diagnosis by performing a series of tests in order to exclude other kind of obstruction your lungs may be suffering from. These tests vary from heart failure, to X-rays of your chest area and checking for asthma. Furthermore, you might undergo a blood test that detects the amount of oxygen in it.
Spirometry is one of the most well-known tests for detecting COPD. It causes the patient no pain whatsoever and it doesn’t take a lot of time. The patient will breathe into a tube attached to a spirometer, which measures your breathing activity. Spirometry has the power to indicate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease before the signs can develop and the disease can spread. Even more so, the spirometry results can help your doctor confirm the state of your condition and properly set up your treatment plan.
Like we said before, no cure has been discovered for COPD yet. Nevertheless, with the help of your doctor and optionally a pulmonologist (lung specialist), you can keep the disease under control and slow down its development. Among the objectives of treatment we can find: allowing you to exercise more without getting tired, visible health improvements and relief from severe symptoms. The most important forms of treatment, however, regard your general lifestyle. All doctors will strongly recommend that you quit smoking (in case you are a smoker), as it is one of the vital factors that affects your condition. If you find quitting difficult, you could try attending various support groups and consulting your doctor about strategies for letting go of cigarettes. Even if you quit smoking altogether, you should stay away from areas with a lot of smoke, which can harm your lungs just as much as normal smoking would.
A later stage of COPD involves a lack of nourishment and noticeable and involuntary weight loss. You are going to need a healthy diet plan in order to get all the nutrients you need, even if it means eating reduced portions several times a day. You may also want to take vitamins to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Also, you shouldn’t fear exercise and other such activities. Although it may be difficult for your breathing condition, your doctor can offer you the necessary guidance to choose the best activities for your health. Regarding medicine, your doctor might prescribe bronchodilators (with the help of an inhaler), steroids (for reducing inflammation), vaccines, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehab or even surgery if your case is in a severe state. Forms of surgery vary from lung volume reduction surgery and bullectomy to even a lung transplant, if that is what your body needs to function well. You shouldn’t be scared though, all of these types of treatment aim to make coping with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease a lot easier for the patient.
As you probably have already guessed, smoking is one of the leading causes for COPD. We really can’t stress enough how bad smoking is for you and how it can potentially become a threat to your life. If you smoke on a regular basis you are continuously damaging your lungs and increasing your risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Don’t think that marijuana can’t harm you as much as tobacco, though. Studies show that both types of smoking can make you prone to developing COPD, as well as cigar or pipe smoke.
There are also a few other causes, but that are not as common as smoking. You can end up with COPD if you work in an industrial environment for years at a time, inhaling chemicals and dust. Also, if your child is born prematurely, he or she might undergo lung damage, scientifically known as neonatal chronic lung disease that can lead to COPD in their later years. Finally, you can even “inherit” this disease, if you have family members who are already suffering from it. This is the case for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, in which people experience decreased levels of this protein that generates in the liver. If you are suffering from this condition and you are a smoker, you are harming your body more than you could imagine and accelerating the effects of COPD. The situation is quite rare, but it’s good to keep it in mind. The same applies to individuals with asthma. All in all, researchers have indicated that smoking is decisive for developing and worsening chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Now that we know the main cause for COPD, prevention seems pretty obvious. By all means, quit smoking! Sometimes preventing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be just as simple as that. This will not only help you avoid developing the disease in the first place, but it will also aid you in preventing exacerbation. By not smoking or quitting you will notice a great amount of improvements in your health and your life in general, not just regarding COPD.
Another key factor for preventing COPD is avoiding lung irritants at all costs. This means that you should not be working or living in an area with fumes and pollution that could harm your lungs even more than they already are. Even though fresh and clean air isn’t as critical as smoking is for COPD, you should really try to avoid these types of irritants for your general health.
If you’re like me, you are probably terrified of getting shots. Although the pain is more psychological than it is physical, vaccines can be pretty scary. Nevertheless, they are vital for keeping COPD under control. If you are suffering from this condition, you are going to need yearly flu vaccines. Patients with this disease who end up with the flu can develop more severe illnesses, such as pneumonia. Another shot for preventing pneumonia is the pneumococcal vaccine. The good news is that this vaccine is taken just once in most cases, so you won’t be pricked more than once. Pertussis vaccinations are highly important for controlling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Commonly known as “whooping cough”, pertussis can worsen your COPD, so it’s best to have your shots up to date in order to avoid any unpleasant situations and to prolong your general life expectancy.
There are all sorts of organizations out there that can help you learn about coping with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. One of the main examples is the COPD Foundation, which encourages patients to “Take Action Today. Breathe Better Tomorrow”. They offer a series of useful resources about educating yourself regarding COPD and how you can gain access to treatment. COPD International not only offers information, but also interactive support for patients suffering from this condition. United States citizens have access to a large range of support groups, both online and face to face. Drugs.com, for example, offers an excellent forum for patients, with over 300 questions and answers in order to understand COPD better. The American Lung Association offers various kinds of social support, from online communities and support groups to a Lung HelpLine open seven days every week.
All in all, one of the best ways to cope with COPD is to seek out the compassion of your close friends and family. Like in the case of many other health conditions and diseases, moral support can be vital for successfully dealing with a life-long disease. Don’t be ashamed to reach out, those who truly love you will be by your side no matter what.