COPD Symptoms

Before we talk about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we need to
define it. COPD is widespread and affect millions of people around the world. It is
the
fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Basically, symptoms are
characterized as a person's inability to exhale or breathe out within a normal time
limit.

You see, their airways are "obstructed" which reduces the flow of air out of the lungs,
and thus, the air becomes trapped in the lungs. Sadly, COPD is not reversible. Once
you have it, you have it for the rest of your life. It is also progressive which means the
disease worsens over time. So once you have it, the symptoms will be with you for a
lifetime. Inflamed airways are one of several signs that only become worse the
longer you smoke.


Causes

Okay, now we have a basic understanding of COPD. But what causes it? Smoking
is the number one cause of COPD
. Sure there are other exposures like pollution
and exposure to biomass fuels, but the primary risk factor is smoking. There is a
genetic form of COPD called
alpha 1 anti-trypsin disorder, but we'll focus our
attention on the smoking related COPD here. In 2005, the CDC reported that
smoking caused 75% of all COPD deaths. Sadly, the death rate from COPD
continues to rise every year as the
smoking rates by state remain high.


COPD and Asthma

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two primary diseases found within this
"class" of disease called COPD. Asthma, although sharing many similarities and
symptoms with COPD, is not included in this class because it can be reversed. In
other words, a person with asthma, may not have permanent lung damage, like is
seen with COPD. Asthma is also not a progressive disease. In fact, children
diagnosed with asthma may grow into adulthood and experience very minimal
asthma related symptoms. It used to be commonplace for people to say that kids
could "grow out of their asthma". Despite these marked differences, many of the
treatments are the same since many of the symptoms manifested are the same -
like bronchospasm, coughing, etc.


Symptoms of COPD

Here is a list of signs and symptoms that are commonly experienced with chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease.

  1. Chronic cough
  2. Shortness of breath that becomes progressive
  3. Wheezing sounds when breathing
  4. Repeated episodes of bronchitis
  5. Frequent respiratory infections
  6. Sudden increase in or difficulty in clearing mucous
  7. Shortness of breath when laying flat at bedtime

Chronic cough and secretion clearing problems can precede the development of
COPD in some people and may be a useful signpost for those people before other
symptoms of COPD become a major health problem. However, COPD may advance
on people without such tell-tale markers. My dad who was never diagnosed with
COPD (after smoking for over 30 years), had a chronic cough in the morning. It was
very troubling to him as he felt like he just could not remove the phlegm in his throat.

When the symptoms of COPD first begin, physicians may take chest x-rays and
blood samples, but the gold-standard test in called the
pulmonary function test.
This actually measures the flow of air coming in and out of the lungs and can tell the
doctor how much obstruction is present. Today, most people with COPD end up
performing this test early on in their disease process as doctors look to curtail the
progression of COPD by looking for it in at-risk patients. Of course, those at-risk for
developing this disease, are smokers.

It is important to remember that COPD is a progressive disease and the symptoms
of COPD can be slowed by immediately quitting smoking. The earlier someone
quits smoking, the less damage and fewer symptoms they will have. Since the
disease cannot be reversed, one shouldn't expect normal, healthy lungs after
quitting smoking. Rather, they should expect a slower progression of symptoms
moving forward. This could be the difference between traveling the world in
retirement or wearing oxygen and being confined to your home. So stop smoking
earlier than later if you want to limit the severity of COPD symptoms.


Treatment

The treatment plan depends a lot on how far the disease has progressed. There
are 4 stages to assist physicians in their treatment plans. These stages are
categorized on the severity of symptoms and airflow measured.

The first treatment is simply avoidance. Remove the exposure that is
causing the COPD - aka: stop smoking

The second treatment is to use a quick acting inhaler that widens or dilates
the narrow airways. This medication is called a short acting bronchodilator.
The most common medication in this class is known generically as
albuterol.

The third treatment is to add a long acting bronchodilator medication.
Tiotropium is a popular one used for COPD patients. The doctor may also
add inhaled steroids if the person is having frequent and increasing
episodes of shortness of breath. Pulmonary rehab may also be a
consideration at this point.

The fourth treatment is to add long term oxygen therapy. The patient may
wear it as needed, only at night, or perhaps 24 hours a day.

These are only examples of the possible treatments available. Remember, it is
impossible to treat the disease itself because it is not reversible. Patients should
always consult their physician for specific treatment plans designed specifically for
them and the COPD symptoms they are personally experiencing.
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