COPD is a chronic diseases of lungs in which obstruction of air occurs from lungs due to inflammation. It is characterized by signs such as mucus production, breathing difficulty, wheezing and cough.

COPD is typically caused due to long-term exposure to gases that cause of irritation like cigarette smoke or particulate matter. A higher risk of heart and lung diseases is present for people suffering from COPD. The two main conditions that play a part in COPD include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These two can occur together and may vary in severity among different individuals.

Although COPD is treatable but it’s a progressive disease and may get worse over the time. However in most people proper management can control the symptoms and increase the quality of life. [i]

Types of COPD

COPD is an umbrella term for more than one conditions which are as follows:

Emphysema – this condition occurs when a person’s air sacs are damaged leading to destruction of the inner walls. This progresses to the merging of air sacs into a single giant air sac. This air sac cannot absorb oxygen properly leading to deficiency of oxygen in blood. Not only that damage to alveoli can result in stretching of lungs and make them lose their springiness. The air that is inhaled in the lungs gets trapped and the person can’t breathe it out which makes him short of breath.

Chronic bronchitis – it is defined as the shortness of breath, mucus secretion and cough which remains for at least a period of three months or up to 2 years. In this disease, cilia (hair-like fibers) that line the bronchial tubes and expel the mucus are lost due to which the person cannot get rid of the mucus and coughs more.

Refractory asthma – it is also a type of respiratory problem but it is irreversible and does not respond to asthma medications.

COPD Causes and Risk Factors

Some factors play an important part in triggering COPD. Long-term exposure of a person to these factors can cause lung irritability. These factors include cigarette smoke, tobacco smoke or pipe. A person although he is not smoking the cigarette or tobacco if exposed to their smoke can attain lung damage. This is called as second hand smoke and it contributes to COPD.

Smoking, if you already have asthma, increases your odds of getting this disease and also worsens the symptoms in person already suffering from it. Exposure to other factors such as air pollution, pesticides, chemicals and dust for a long duration can result in a higher risk to COPD.

With increasing age the risk of developing COPD increases. Most people get the symptoms after age of 40.

COPD can also be related to genetics. Deficiency of a protein alpha 1 antitrypsin although rare can increase the risk of getting COPD.[ii]

Symptoms of COPD

The common signs and symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are as follows:

  • Prolonged coughing
  • Coughing with a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Losing breath when exertion is done
  • Wheezing/squeaking sounds heard on breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent flu/cold
  • Low energy levels
  • Blue fingernails
  • Low energy
  • Weight loss on later stages
  • Swelling of legs, ankles or feet

Diagnosis of COPD

Diagnosis of COPD usually involves the examination of medical history of an individual. Physical examination and breathing tests can also be done to diagnose this disease.

Spirometry is a test done by a spirometer that can measure the amount of air that the lungs can hold in and the time in which the lungs blow this air out.

Other tests include:

  • Lung function tests
  • Chest X-rays
  • CT-scan
  • Arterial blood gas test
  • Laboratory tests to determine alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency

Treatments for COPD

The goal of COPD treatment is to relieve the symptoms of the disease and slow its progression. Medications can also be taken to avoid any complications and to make the quality of life better.

Avoiding any type of smoking can help in preventing any complications and other problems like heart, lung and other diseases.

Medical treatment

Medicines that can be taken to reduce the symptoms of the disease include inhalers and oral medicine. The doctor may prescribe one or more of the following:

  • Bronchodilators – these can either be inhaled or taken orally depending on the severity of the disease. This medications help to relax the air passages and make it easier to breath.
  • Corticosteroids – similar to bronchodilators they can be inhaled or taken as pills. They act by reducing the inflammation in the airways.
  • Combination treatment – this includes the use of both inhalers as well as steroids.
  • Oxygen therapy – oxygen is provided from some external source in patients suffering from shortness of breath or very severe COPD.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – it is a program for the management of disease including exercise and counseling for the betterment of quality of life of patients.
  • Antibiotics – these are used to treat the patients against infections.
  • Vaccination – vaccines for Flu or pneumonia vaccines mightlower the risk of COPD.
  • In severe cases of COPD when the patient is not responding to any other treatment surgery is considered. The doctor may suggest bullectomy (removal of bullae which are large air spaces formed after the collapse of air sacs), lung volume reduction surgery (removal of diseased lung tissue) and lung transplant (the diseased lung is replaced with a healthy lung).

Complications of COPD

COPD may become complicated over the time. The complications may include:

  • Respiratory infections – people with COPD frequently get colds, cough, and infections such as pneumonia.
  • Cardiac problems – individuals with COPD have a higher risk of heart attack and heart diseases.
  • High blood pressure – high blood pressure in the arteries located in lungs may occur as complication.
  • Lung cancer – COPD patients are more likely to suffer from lung cancer.
  • Depression – some people suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder might develop depression.

Steps to take when you have COPD

Some easy steps can be taken to enhance the quality of life:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid exposure to fumes, air pollution, dust and smoke
  • Take your medicines properly
  • Perform breathing exercises
  • Do meditation
  • Healthy diet
  • Do light exercises
  • Use humidifiers to clear the lungs
  • Get counseling