What is COPD?
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive form of lung disease ranging from mild to severe. It is characterized by a restriction of airflow into and out of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. COPD is the umbrella term for sufferers who have been diagnosed with or show signs of emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis.
COPD limits the quality of life of those it affects. Many sufferers have trouble walking short distances and are especially susceptible to illness and pneumonia. Often times sufferers need oxygen support for 24 hours a day. If you show signs of emphysema or chronic bronchitis you may have COPD. Long term, the effects of COPD result in an enlargement of the right side of the heart
and eventual death. There is no cure for COPD, but treatment options are available
to prevent more damage and improve quality of life.
A form of COPD in which the tiny balloon-like air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs are damaged. In a healthy person, these air sacs expand and shrink as you breathe. In a person with emphysema the air sacs lose their elasticity allowing less oxygen to reach the lungs causing shortness of breath.
A form of COPD in which the bronchial tubes become inflamed causing an excessive production of mucus. In a healthy person, oxygen travels through the lungs unrestricted. In a person with chronic bronchitis, the airways become narrowed or completely blocked by mucus production.
To learn about the stem cell treatment options available for COPD, click here.
Smoking & Second Hand Smoke
The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke. COPD can develop in both current smokers and past smokers. Long-term cigarette use or exposure to tobacco soaks the lungs in harmful toxins that cause severe damage leading to many of the diseases that make up COPD.
A consistent inhalation of air pollutants can cause inflammation in the lungs leading to lung damage, and in some cases COPD.
Alpha-1-antitrypsin (or alpha-1 antiprotease)
A rare genetic disorder that decreases the production of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. Alpha-1-antitrypsin is a substance in the lungs that fights the destructive enzyme trypsin (or protease). In a person that is alpha-1-antitrypsin deficient their lungs cannot fight the destructive nature of the trypsin. Therefore, the lung tissue is progressively weakened and destroyed, a similar effect to smoking cigarettes.
Inhalation of the following chemicals can cause COPD:
Many of these chemicals can be found in the environments of the following professions:
COPD is a progressive disease in which symptoms gradually worsen over time.
Common signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
- Shortness of breath – difficulty breathing that does not directly relate to physical exertion. Shortness of breath may occur while exerting oneself or while lying down. Often times a sense of anxiety follows and a feeling of tightness or cramping in the chest wall. Shortness of breath is commonly associated with emphysema.
- Constant coughing or “smokers cough” – an ongoing cough that produces excess mucus or phlegm. Yellow or green phlegm may indicate chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. Current or previous smokers of tobacco are the most likely to develop “smokers cough” however, non-smokers may develop symptoms as well.
- Sleep apnea – a disorder in which the airway to the lungs are compromised causing the sufferer to repeatedly stop breathing during the sleep cycle. Damage to the lungs associated with COPD may cause sleep apnea causing sufferers to feel overly lethargic or fatigued.
- Wheezing and tightness in chest –associated with a whistling sound while breathing, and emphysema.
- Re-occurring upper respiratory infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis.
Seek Immediate Attention if:
- Your blood pressure is elevated or your heartbeat is abnormally quick.
- You feel less alert or your cognitive reasoning isn’t typical.
- Your lips or fingernails turn blue.
The severity of symptoms directly correlates with the amount of damage done to the lungs.
It is important to note that every case of COPD is different, sufferers may or may not have the symptoms listed above and many of these symptoms are consistent with other conditions. If you think you might have COPD it is important to check with your doctor as soon as possible. If you have been diagnosed with COPD treatment options are available to improve your quality of life.
Men and Women
In the past men were most commonly affected, however with the rise of tobacco use by females specifically in high-income countries men and women are now afflicted almost equally. In 2007, approximately 64,000 females in America died of COPD as opposed to 60,000 men.
Individuals 40 Years and Older
COPD is a progressive disease and therefore affects people later in life. As a result, current or former smokers 40 years or older are the most commonly afflicted with COPD. However, the age of the sufferer directly relates to the age at which their lungs were damaged. For example, a child that grew up in a heavily polluted area may be at risk to developing COPD much earlier in life.
Cigarette smokers are at the highest risk of developing COPD. The toxins in cigarette smoke absorb into the bronchial walls causing the inflammation that leads to COPD. However, not all smokers develop symptoms. More research needs to be done as to why COPD only affects some smokers and not others. It is speculated that nutrition, genetic factors and other external influences contribute the likelihood of COPD development.
Alpha-1-antitypsin or AAT, deficiency causes COPD in a small percentage of people. Those with an AAT deficiency do not need to be a smoker to be susceptible to this disease.
A long-term exposure to harsh dusts, chemical fumes, pollution and vapors can cause inflammation in the lungs.