Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of progressive lung disorders in which the insufficient amounts of airflow in and out of the airways.
This insufficiency may be due to inelasticity of the lung tissue, inflammation of the walls of the air sacs of the lungs or because of excessive mucus production. Those people with COPD become progressively more disabled by the condition.
Causes of COPD
People who have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are people who were smokers, but contact with other lung irritants can also be at fault. Long-term exposure to dust, air pollution or chemical fumes can also cause ongoing lung problems that can eventually lead to COPD. Once the structures deep within the lungs are affected, the damage becomes progressively worse.
Symptoms of COPD
COPD includes diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases produce shortness of breath, an ongoing cough, a cough that produces quantities of mucus, wheezing, tightness in the chest and frequent colds or bouts of flu. COPD can also cause fatigue and muscle weakness. Complications include heart disease, high blood pressure, frequent respiratory infections, and depression.
The diseases the comprise COPD, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, diagnosed initially with x-rays and computerized tomography, or CT scans. Lab tests such as the arterial blood gas measures how well lungs are bringing in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. Analysis of sputum under a microscope can identify the source of the illness. Spirometry, in which the patient blows into a large tube that measures how much air the lungs can hold, tells the physician about the progress of the disease and how well the treatments are working.
Treatments For COPD
Though there is no cure for COPD, treatment can help to ease breathing, reduce infection and improve quality of life. Smokers must immediately stop all smoking. Though this can be a very difficult task for patients, it is the single way to stopping the further damage of the lungs and the best way to stabilize the condition. Nicotine replacement products, smoking cessation medications and counseling can all be employed to help the patient remove tobacco from their daily lives. Medications, called bronchodilators, used to open the airways and make breathing easier. Patients may need a short-acting bronchodilator before activities, a long-acting bronchodilator to use every day or both types of medication. Inhaled steroid medications also prescribed to reduce inflammation and improve breathing. However, steroid medications can cause problems when used over a long period. Antibiotics also prescribed to reduce infection.
Therapy For COPD
Increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood done with a variety of oxygen units. Some of these are very portable and can be taken along anywhere the patient goes. The amount of supplemental oxygen needed can vary from patient to patient. Other types of therapy also used to treat the disease, including physical therapy, respiratory therapy, exercise specialists, and dieticians. Surgery to remove small amounts of damaged lung tissue can help to improve overall lung function. Lung transplants for those with severe emphysema to improve breathing. Patients must meet specific criteria for transplant surgery and may have to wait for a long period for a donor.
Living With COPD
Coping with a progressive illness that causes severe discomfort and disability can be difficult for patients. Support groups can be helpful in sharing fears and tips for everyday living. Family and friends can offer their help for daily tasks. Counseling can help patients who feel overwhelmed by their illness and who may be suffering from depression as a result of it.