According to the American Lung Association, more than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This disease is the fourth leading cause of death by disease in the United States. COPD is actually a term that encompasses many lung conditions, most notably chronic bronchitis and emphysema, that doctors have been more recently diagnosing under this more general class. This condition causes obstruction of the passages that allow air to travel to the lungs.
By seriously disrupting your ability to breathe, COPD can have a devastating impact on your quality of life. Relationships, work and your favorite hobbies and activities can all be negatively affected, and it can be easy to lose hope, especially because there is no known cure for this condition.
At Lung Health Institute, we’re committed to helping patients manage their symptoms and find long-term relief from progressive lung conditions like COPD. We believe that patient education is a critical step in this process. By having a better understanding of COPD, including the causes, symptoms, diagnostic methods and potential treatments for this condition, you can work with your care providers on a more informed basis.
Primary Causes of COPD
COPD is largely caused by long-term exposure of the lungs to small particles and irritating gases, especially tobacco smoke. Other causes include air pollution, exposure to dust, gas and fumes in the workplace. In other countries, many COPD sufferers develop the condition from breathing smoke that is a byproduct of indoor cooking and heating fires.
While a large majority of COPD patients were long-term cigarette smokers, it is estimated that only about 20 to 30% of the smoking population develops the disorder. This indicates that there is likely a genetic component that makes certain people more likely to develop COPD. Another primary risk factor is age. Since this is a progressive condition, most COPD sufferers begin to develop symptoms in their 40s.
COPD is characterized by obstructed airways that prevent the intake of oxygen and cause excess carbon dioxide to be trapped in the lungs. In many cases, this lung obstruction is caused by chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema. Bronchitis is a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes, while emphysema affects the air sacs themselves. No matter what the specific cause of COPD is, this condition typically results in a common group of symptoms for patients.
Common COPD Symptoms
Since COPD is a progressive condition, it can take years before symptoms start to develop; even if significant lung damage has already occurred. The most common indicator that COPD is beginning to develop is shortness of breath and coughing with increased mucus.
Other frequently observed and reported symptoms include:
- Excess mucus in the lungs that requires throat clearing
- Tightness in the chest
- Fatigue and general lack of energy
- Higher than average rate of respiratory infections
- Development of a blue tint in the lips and fingernails due to insufficient oxygen
- Increased swelling in the extremities, especially the feet and legs
In the later stages of COPD, patients can also encounter increased weight loss. One overlooked symptom of this condition is anxiety attacks, and more generalized anxiety as a side effect of the shortness of breath.
How Doctors Diagnose COPD
It can be difficult to diagnose COPD in some cases due to the overlap of the above symptoms with other lung conditions or because the condition goes undiagnosed for years due to the lack of serious symptoms.
To diagnose COPD, doctors will typically perform a physical examination, review your medical history, ask questions about your symptoms and order diagnostic testing, such as blood work or an X-ray. Other tests can include lung function tests, CT scans and analysis of arterial blood gas. Once a diagnosis of COPD is confirmed, you can begin to form a targeted treatment plan.
Treatment Options for COPD
While there is still no cure for COPD, the condition can be manageable. This is why it is important to keep a positive attitude about treatment and make any necessary lifestyle changes. If COPD is smoking-related, it is critical to begin quitting smoking immediately. For many cases, this can be the single most effective form of treatment.
Other treatments include:
- Steroids, either oral or inhaled
- Antibiotics, to treat respiratory infections that develop
- Oxygen therapy
- Surgery, generally for more severe cases
Patients seeking relief from COPD can also reach out to Lung Health Institute to learn more about our options for relief. We are an innovative leader in regenerative medicine, offering cellular therapy to treat chronic inflammatory lung conditions including COPD. Take the next step to find relief. Contact one of our patient coordinators today for more information or to schedule a free consultation.