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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

If you find yourself asking "What is COPD?" you aren't alone. It's not a commonly known disease and has a long and difficult name -- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. At its roots, COPD is a condition in that causes restricted breathing due to one of four reasons -- the airways and air sacs in the lungs lose their elasticity; the airway walls thicken and become inflamed; the walls between air sacs in the lungs are destroyed; or the airways produce more mucus than is the norm, which leads to clogging.

COPD is a blanket term for two conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is the condition that causes damage to air sacs, while chronic bronchitis leads to inflammation and irritation of airways.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Symptoms

Symptoms for COPD occur long before the condition causes serious damage to the lungs. These symptoms include a persistent, often-mucusy cough, shortness of breath, wheezing and tightness of the chest. Other indicators of COPD include frequent colds and flus, swelling in the ankles, legs or feet, bluish tinge to the lips and a low blood oxygen level.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Risk Factors

The people most at risk for COPD are those who smoke or who are exposed to lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes or dust, for prolonged periods of time. Symptoms typically don't appear until people are in their 40s.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Treatment

COPD is a condition that worsens over time. While the condition may be negligible in the beginning, mid-stage COPD can impact daily life (for example, COPD and air travel typically don't go together), while end stage COPD is extremely debilitating and will eventually prove fatal if not managed. For this reason, early treatment of COPD is important.

Treatment for COPD starts with lifestyle changes -- quitting smoking is essential. Other treatment methods include medications, such as bronchodilators and inhaled glucosteroids; vaccines to prevent conditions like the flu and pneumonia; oxygen therapy, which involves taking oxygen through a mask; pulmonary rehabilitation, which may include nutritional counseling, physiotherapy and more; and finally surgery.

Surgery is rare in cases of COPD and is only used when other treatment options have not worked. Surgery may include a lung transplant, lung volume reduction or a bullectomy, which involves removing large air spaces in the lungs.

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