November is COPD Awareness Month.  Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It is caused by damage to the lungs over many years, usually from smoking.COPD is often a mix of two diseases:  Chronic bronchitis and Emphysema. With chronic bronchitis, the airways that carry air into to the lungs get inflamed and produce a lot of mucus. This can narrow and block the airways, making it hard to breathe.In a healthy person, the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs are like balloons. As you breathe in and out, they get bigger and smaller to move air through your lungs. But with emphysema, these air sacs are damaged and lose their elasticity. Less air gets in and out of the lungs, which makes you feel short of breath.  COPD gets worse over time, because you can’t undo the damage to your lungs. But you can take steps to prevent more damage and to feel better.What causes COPD?COPD is almost always caused by smoking. Over time, breathing tobacco smoke irritates the airways and destroys the stretchy fibers in the lungs. Other things that may put you at risk include chemical fumes, dust, or air pollution over a long period of time.  Secondhand smoke is also a cause.It usually takes many years for the damage to start causing symptoms, so COPD is most common in people who are older than 60.What are the symptoms?Symptoms are a long lasting cough, mucus that comes up when you cough, and shortness of breath that gets worse when you exercise.As COPD gets worse, you may be short of breath even when you do simple activities of daily living. (e.g.  getting dressed, fixing a meal) It gets harder to eat or exercise, and breathing takes much more energy. People often lose weight and get weaker.At times, your symptoms may suddenly flare up and get much worse. This is called a COPD exacerbation. An exacerbation can range from mild to life threatening. The longer you have COPD, the more severe these flare-ups can be.How is COPD diagnosed?A doctor will do a physical exam and listen to your lungs. He will ask questions about your past medical history and whether you smoked or have been exposed to other things due to occupation. He will order breathing tests (spirometry) to find out how well your lungs work. He will also order chest X-rays and other tests to help rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.How is COPD treated?COPD has no cure. However, lifestyle changes and treatments can help you feel better, stay active and slow the progression of the disease. Getting the flu vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine is also advised, as people with COPD are at higher risk to contract the flu and/or pneumonia. The goals of treatment are relieving your symptoms; slowing the progression of the disease; improving exercise tolerance to keep you active; preventing and treating complications; and improving overall health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *