Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a very serious lung disease that causes breathlessness and can make breathing difficult. It is actually the combination of two diseases. The first is chronic bronchitis, which causes the airways that carry air to the lungs to become inflamed. It also causes you to produce more mucus than you should. When the airway becomes narrow, it can be difficult to breathe. The other disease that makes up COPD is emphysema. Emphysema causes damage to the air sacks that get larger and smaller as you breathe in and out. When the air sacks lose their stretch, less air goes in an out of the lungs, making you feel short of breath. COPD is a progressive disease that cannot be reversed when the damage to the lungs has been done.
COPD causes a variety of symptoms that can make you uncomfortable and over time, the symptoms can make regular daily activities difficult. These symptoms include:
- A constant, nagging cough that doesn’t go away
- Feeling of breathlessness especially when you are exerting yourself
- Tightness in the chest
- Coughing up mucus
People who suffer from COPD often have flare-ups. These are times when the symptoms become worse and often require a visit to the hospital.
There are certain risk factors that can make a person more susceptible to developing COPD than others. The most common risk factors include:
- Tobacco Use: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes will all increase your chances of developing COPD.
- Asthma: While asthma and COPD are completely different conditions, you have a greater risk of developing COPD if you have asthma.
- Air Pollution: The air inside and outside of the home can cause COPD. Indoor and outdoor air pollution can also cause a COPD flare-up for those who are already suffering from it.
- Occupational Hazards: If you work around high levels of dust or chemical fumes, you are at risk of developing COPD.
- Family History: If a family member has COPD, your chances of getting it greatly increase.
- Premature Birth: Premature babies often need to have oxygen therapy for long periods of time because their lungs are not fully developed. This can cause minor lung damage that can get worse later in life, and can cause COPD later.
While it is impossible to reverse the damage that COPD has done to the lungs, it is possible to limit the symptoms, prevent and treat flare-ups, and improve your overall health. The most common treatment is Pulmonary rehabilitation. This treatment will train your heart, muscles, and mind to get the most out of your damaged lungs. Oxygen treatment, medication, and eating healthy are also great ways to help prevent flare-ups and keep the disease from progressing.
While COPD can cause its own set of symptoms, it can also result in several complications that can be dangerous to your health.
- Frequent Illness: COPD makes you more susceptible to developing colds, the flu, and pneumonia.
- Heart Problems: While the cause is still unknown, COPD can put you at a higher risk for heart disease and heart attack.
- Depression: The idea of being seriously ill and not being able to do things you enjoy can result in depression.
- Lung Cancer: COPD puts you at greater risk of developing lung cancer.
COPD is a very serious disease that continues to progress over time. Unfortunately, there is no cure, however, there are treatments available which make it possible to live a full a life with COPD.