COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a chronic condition that makes it hard for people to breathe. COPD is a long-term inflammatory lung disorder that obstructs the airflow from the lungs. It is ordinarily caused by long-term exposure to irritants and particulate matter such as cigarette smoke, cigar, harmful fumes, air pollutants, and dust. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common COPD conditions. These two conditions may or may not occur together and can vary in severity as well. Emphysema is a lung condition that damages air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs causing shortness of breath, whereas chronic bronchitis is a long-time inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the alveoli. COPD is a persistent disease that gets worse with time, but with timely medical interventions, it is treatable. With proper management, COPD can be controlled, allowing the patient to lead a better quality of life.
Symptoms of COPD
People with COPD find it difficult to breathe. Symptoms might not appear in the beginning, but as the disease progresses, the signs and symptoms become more persistent. If the exposure to irritants continues, the patients continue to find difficulty in breathing. Common sign and symptoms of COPD include:
What causes COPD?
One of the prime causes of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is tobacco smoking. The longer one smokes, the greater is the risk of developing COPD. In addition to tobacco smoke, exposure to harmful fumes also cause COPD.
How the lungs get affected?
Air travels down the trachea (windpipe) and through two large tubules (bronchi) into the lungs. These tubules are divided into smaller bronchioles that end with a cluster of tiny air sacs known as alveoli. The air sacs are composed of very delicate walls enriched with blood vessels. The inhaled oxygen passes through these blood vessels to enter the bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide gas is moved from the capillaries to air sacs.
For the process of gas exchange, the lungs depend on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs. The air sacs filled up with air resemble a balloon-like structure when air is breathed in. The sacs deflate when the air is breathed out. Chronic pulmonary obstructive disease causes the bronchial tubes and air sacs to lose their elasticity & over-expand, causing less air to flow in and out of the airways.
Different types of COPD
The two most common forms of COPD are:
1. Chronic bronchitis - It is the long-term chronic inflammation of bronchi resulting in increased production of mucus and other changes. These changes may result in breathing problems, respiratory infections, and coughs.
2. Emphysema - It is a chronic lung condition in which alveoli are destroyed, collapsed, or over-inflated. Emphysema can decrease respiratory functions and results in breathlessness.
Risk factors associated with COPD
Complications of COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases may lead to many complications, such as:
1. Respiratory infections: The possibility of catching a cold, flu, and pneumonia is slightly higher in people with COPD. Any respiratory infection makes it harder to breathe and can cause additional damage to the lung tissues.
2. Heart problems: COPD can raise the risk of many heart diseases, including heart attacks in COPD patients.
3. Lung cancer: Those who are suffering from COPD are more likely to get lung cancer. Therefore it is advised to quit smoking.
4. High blood pressure in the lung arteries: COPD may elevate the blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood into the lungs causing pulmonary hypertension.
5. Depression: COPD is an illness and may contribute to depression also.
Diagnosis of COPD
COPD might not be diagnosed until the disease progresses to its advanced stage. There is no unique test to diagnose COPD but based on symptoms, the following tests are recommended:
1. Lungs function test: This test measures the amount of air one can inhale or exhale.
2. Chest X-ray: Chest X-ray helps rule out emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. Along with emphysema, a chest X-ray can also identify other lung disorders and heart failure.
3. CT scan: A chest CT scan provide a more detailed image of the lungs, blood vessels, and heart to find the root cause of the disease.
4. Arterial blood gas analysis: It measures how well lungs are bringing oxygen into the blood and removing carbon dioxide.
5. Pathology tests: Laboratory tests do not diagnose COPD but might help to determine the cause of symptoms and any underlying infection.
Certain lifestyle changes may help to ease the symptoms of COPD and provide comfort. Taking the following steps can enhance the quality of life.