Can you guess what the leading cause of death and illness is worldwide? It’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD refers to a group of diseases affecting the lungs, blocking airflow, and making it hard to breathe. The two main conditions associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD also can refer to damage to the lungs caused by chronic asthmatic bronchitis. The major cause of COPD is smoking, followed by reflux disease, being over the age of 40, genetics, or repeated exposure to lung irritants such as smoke, harsh chemicals, or excessive dust.
Symptoms of COPD generally don’t appear until significant damage has occurred. If damage has occurred, a person with it may experience episodes of increased shortness of breath, wheezing, a chronic cough that produces yellow sputum, and frequent respiratory infections or chest tightness. Symptoms can be present all at the same time.
If you suspect you have COPD, it is important to discuss it with your doctor to assure early detection and treatment. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- How is COPD diagnosed? Your doctor will diagnose COPD based on signs, symptoms, medical history, family history, test results, and whether you smoke or have frequent exposure to lung irritants. Tests may include Lung Function Test (measures how much air you can breathe in and out), Spirometry (breathing into a machine designed to measure how much air you can breathe out), chest X-ray or CT scan, or an arterial blood gas test (measures the oxygen level in your blood).
- What type of COPD do I have? The two main types of COPD include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- How is COPD treated? If you smoke, the best thing you can do is quit. Your doctor can help developa program for you or prescribe medication to help you quit. Your doctor may also prescribe certain medications to help treat the symptoms of COPD, such as bronchodilators, vaccinations, inhaled steroids, or antibiotics. Your doctor also may suggest surgery, oxygen therapy, or a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
- What is the long term risk of COPD? People with COPD may experience increased incidence of respiratory infections, high blood pressure, heart problems, lung cancer, or depression. If you suspect any of these conditions, talk with your doctor.
- What if the doctor suggests I have surgery? Surgery may include a lung transplant (in more severe cases such as emphysema), or lung volume reduction surgery, where small wedges of damaged lung tissue is removed to allow more room in the chest cavity for the remaining lung tissue and give the diaphragm the ability to work more efficiently. Options come with drawbacks and often require very special criteria, so it’s important to discuss all options with your doctor to ensure an educated decision.
- Any tips for living with COPD? COPD doesn’t have a cure, and treatment entails treating symptoms. To help your condition:
- avoid lung irritants (quitting smoking)
- keep up with ongoing care
- manage your condition and the symptoms
- prepare for emergencies (know when to get medical attention for new symptoms, signs of infection, or exacerbations)
- Is there any research I can do on my own and what sources would you recommend? Your doctor can suggest favorite reputable web sites and support groups for obtaining more information and helping you cope with your COPD day-to-day.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your doctor. Talk with your team of doctors to get the full picture for your particular case.
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Copd/Copd_WhatIs.html COPD: What is COPD?
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Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.