Life with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
What Is COPD?
COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung disease that makes breathing difficult due to obstruction of the airways. The airways are inflamed and thickened, and the lung tissue involved in exchange of oxygen may also be destroyed. The amount of air that reaches the lungs is less, causing less oxygen to be transferred to blood, which further means that the cells of the body receive less oxygen.
COPD is commonly referred to as a group of two lung diseases – emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
The major symptoms of COPD are:
- Chronic cough
- Mucous that accompanies the cough
- Shortness of breath, during exercise or even restful activities
As the disease progresses, it becomes difficult for the patient to even perform simple, everyday tasks like walking or getting dressed. Breathing takes a lot more effort and due to the extra energy lost on it, patient tend to become weak.
How does COPD affect the lungs?
The inflamed and narrowed airways of lungs tend to collapse every time the patient breathes out and also clog up with mucous. This reduces the amount of air that can flow in the lung airways. The airways inflammation sensitizes nerves to respond with a forceful stimulation of muscles of the airway. The strong contraction of the muscles is what is observed as a cough, which helps to clear out the mucous from the lungs and throw it upwards towards the throat. (Smoker’s cough).
Further, COPD interferes with the way blood exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs through its two manifestations – emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Emphysema destroys alveoli (small sacs that enable oxygen transfer into blood). Instead of alveoli, large air pockets form that do not carry out the alveoli function but also disrupt the nearby normal lung tissue.
- Chronic bronchitis causes shortness of breath due to the narrowed and mucous-laden airways, which cannot complete the transfer of oxygen. Less oxygen reaches the blood in every breath, causing the patient to gasp for air.
What causes COPD?
- Smoking – The poisonous chemicals in cigarette smoke cause air passage to narrow, swelling of air tubes and destruction of air sacs, along with a reduced immunity of the lungs to fight infection. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD in people.
- Air pollution – Fumes containing toxic air pollutants, dust, and even certain chemicals that a person may be exposed to at work can cause COPD.
- Genetics – A small percentage of COPD patients carry a genetic deficiency that produces low levels of a liver protein known as alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt). This protein is secreted in the blood from where it is known to protect the lungs. Alpha-1 deficiency affects both liver and lungs. In lungs, it causes COPD.
Living with COPD
The effects of COPD get severe as the disease progresses. While the damage already done to the lungs may not get undone, patients can work on some coping strategies to make themselves comfortable and prevent further lung damage:
- Quit smoking
- Actively work on improving breathing efficiency
- Eating healthy
- Staying reasonable active
- Seeking support from family and friends
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“COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” BLF.org.uk, British Lung Foundation, http://www.blf.org.uk/Page/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-COPD
“COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease),” WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd-overview
“COPD’s Effect on the Lungs – Topic Overview,”WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/copds-effect-on-the-lungs-topic-overview