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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD) : Symptoms and Causes

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD) : Symptoms and Causes
Published : May 01, 2024
Last Updated : May 02, 2024

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs. It is a group of progressive lung diseases that increases with time.

People with COPD suffer from two critical conditions that are Chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Emphysema is a condition caused by smoking and other gases that destroy the air sacs in the lungs, causing problems with outward airflow.

Chronic bronchitis is the inflammation caused in the bronchial tubes (which carry air to and from the air sacs in the lungs). As a result, it builds up mucus.

Around 30 million US men suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease. COPD, if left untreated, can cause heart problems and respiratory infections.

Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

These are some of the COPD symptoms:

Breath shortness (after physical activities such as light walking, Exercise, climbing stairs, and more).

  • Chronic Cough (with or without mucus).
  • Unclear throat (have to clean regularly).
  • Energy needs to be improved.
  • Cold and flu frequently.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Wheezing.
  • Swelling of legs, arms and feet.
  • Weight loss (experienced at later stages).

These symptoms might ensure that you are suffering from COPD. Hence, get checked to see if you experience any issues.

Causes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

There are multiple causes of COPD, as discussed herewith:

Smoking

Regular smoking contributes to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease. The higher an individual smoke, the higher the risk of developing COPD.

Smoking irritates and narrows the airways. It also damages cilia, which makes it unable to remove mucus from the airways.

Not only cigarette smoking but a pipe, cigar, and secondhand smoke may also lead to COPD. Many people suffer from COPD if they smoke in asthma conditions.

Chemical exposure

Exposure to chemicals and fumes can be the one reason you are suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease.

Inhaling dust for long and air pollution increases the risk of COPD. Fumes produced from burning fuel used for cooking also cause breathing problems.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a genetic disorder whose deficiency contributes to COPD. Aplha-1 antitrypsin is an enzyme that protects the lungs from inflammation.

People with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency are more likely to experience lung damage when exposed to smoke and dust.

Stages of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD worsens over time. It can progress to these four stages:

  • Stage 1 (Mild).
  • Stage 2 (Moderate).
  • Stage 3 (Severe).
  • Stage 4 (Very severe).

The symptoms change with increased stages. So, get your health monitored at the first stage of COPD to avoid an unnecessary increase in the condition.

Diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

There are several diagnoses of COPD. Your doctor may prescribe one after going through a physical exam. They will first ask you a few questions, such as:

  • You have a family history of COPD.
  • If you have asthma symptoms.
  • You experience irritation in the lungs.
  • Whether you smoke regularly.
  • Are you taking any medications for treating COPD?
  • You are exposed to smoke and fumes.

Physical exam

After knowing all the above answers, they will take a physical exam as follows:

  • Blood pressure and pulse check.
  • Observing the feet and ankle swelling.
  • Listen to the heart and lungs.
  • Examine your throat and nose.

Tests

When done with the physical exam, you will be asked to go through one of the tests listed here:

X-ray or CT scan

X-ray and CT scans help healthcare providers to observe your blood vessels, lungs, and heart from depth.

Spirometry

It is a noninvasive test performed to assess lung function. You will be asked to hold a deep breath and blow into a tube connected to a spirometer.

Arterial blood gas test

An arterial blood gas test is performed with a blood sample collected from an artery. Your healthcare provider measures the levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and other gases.

Exercise test

An exercise test is carried out to check if a person's oxygen levels drop while performing mild exercises.

What are the treatments for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease?

Treating COPD helps in slowing the progression of the disease. These are some of the treatments for COPD:

Medications

Medications are the first option when looking for a treatment for COPD. These are some Asthma Inhalers prescribed for COPD.

  • Bronchodilators: A mist containing bronchodilators is inhaled. It relaxes the airways and makes breathing easier.
  • Antibiotics: COPD damages the lungs and causes lung infections. Hence, antibiotics are taken to prevent bacterial infections.
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines treat watery eyes, sneezing, and stuffy heads. They dry the airways, making breathing easier.
  • Anticholinergics: Anticholinergics relax the tightened airways. They open the airways, allowing mucus to move freely. Hence, clearing mucus becomes easier.
  • Antivirals: Antivirals are taken to prevent influenza. Influenza is dangerous in patients with COPD.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine: These medicines are taken to lower the inflammation caused in the lungs.
  • Expectorants: Expectorants thin the mucus, which helps one to cough out easily.
  • Vaccines: A flu shot, tetanus booster, and pneumococcal vaccine may help people protect themselves from whooping cough.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy is a way to supply enough oxygen to patients with low oxygen levels. Oxygen is provided via a mask or nasal cannula, allowing the patient to breathe easily.

Surgery

Surgery is the last treatment for COPD when no other works. Bullectomy is a surgery to remove large air spaces from the lungs.

Lung volume reduction surgery is carried out to remove the damaged upper lung tissue. Lung transplantation is also a surgery type suggested in rare cases.

Lung transplantation is quite effective but a risky option. Zephyr Endobronchial Valve is now used to enhance exercise capacity and lung functioning.

Lifestyle changes that help treat COPD

Adapting these lifestyle changes may help prevent COPD:

  • Quitting smoking.
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals and fumes.
  • Take enough nutrition.
  • Exercise.

Summary

We conclude here by saying that smoking, avoiding chemical fumes, etc, surely helps in preventing COPD. If you experience mild symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, immediately discuss it with your doctor.