COPD is a chronic inflammation of the trachea and lungs that leads to impaired lung function. The disease develops for a long time and eventually manifests in the form of a prolonged cough, recurrent airway infections, impaired physical performance and respiratory problems. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. The course of the disease can be slowed down by smoking cessation, exercise and medication.
APPOTEK can help you with COPD by referring you to a specialist for advice and treatment.
If you or someone near you does not get enough air, seek emergency care and wait for an ambulance.
Globally, COPD affects approximately 329 million people (4.8% of the population). The disease affects men and women almost equally, as there has been increased tobacco use among women in the developed world. Symptoms are rarely apparent before the age of 40 and as the disease develops slowly, many people do not know that they have COPD until symptoms are substantial. The risk of suffering increases with age.
Smoking is the main risk factor – about half of all long term smokers have COPD by the age of 75. But COPD also sometimes affects people who do not smoke or have never smoked before. Passive smoking or prolonged exposure to other respiratory irritants, such as air pollutants or gases, increases the risk of suffering. Occupational groups such as construction workers and welders working in dusty environments are particularly vulnerable.
Genetic factors can also play a role. Premature birth with impaired lung development, severe asthma or recurrent respiratory infections in childhood are other risk factors.
COPD is a permanent inflammation of the trachea and lungs that is usually a result inhaling harmful substances for many years. Mostly this is due to smoking, but up to every fifth person affected has never been a smoker.
Inflammation causes damage to the lungs and trachea, leading them to produce more mucus and narrow airways. The damage means that the airflow to and from the lungs is reduced and it becomes more difficult to absorb oxygen and exhale the residual carbon dioxide.
Pulmonary function gradually worsens, but the progression of the disease can be slowed if you change your lifestyle, stop smoking, practice regular breathing exercises and use medicines. Early detection is also crucial to slowing the progress of the disease, but the damage that has already occurred cannot be repaired.
The most common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath and a cough that produces sputum. These symptoms are present for a prolonged period of time and typically worsen over time.
Other signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
- Chest tightness
- Having to clear your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungs
- A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
- Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Lack of energy
- Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
- Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
Chronic bronchitis, which is usually called “smokers cough”, often occurs together with COPD. This usually means that you cough mucus for at least three months a year for at least two years. The disease also increases the risk of suffering from other diseases at the same time. Half of everyone who gets a COPD diagnosis also has cardiovascular disease. Anxiety and depression are also common.
Respiratory problems and mucus cough are not always due to COPD. Chronic bronchitis and asthma can cause similar symptoms, (although asthma usually causes clearer respiratory distress). They can also be symptoms of other infections, heart failure or serious illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or lung cancer, so always check with your doctor for a correct diagnosis.
Prevention and protection
To prevent and relieve COPD, smokers must firstly stop smoking – otherwise they cannot stop the development of the disease. If you have a hard time quitting, you can get professional help from the healthcare system. There are also prescription drugs at pharmacies that can help you quit.
Those who have already quit smoking, or those who have never smoked, can also relieve symptoms through physical activity. COPD often leads to physical deterioration and you can do a lot to strengthen yourself physically – which in turn helps you feel better mentally.
Here’s how you can relieve discomfort associated with COPD:
- quit smoking – smoking cessation is the single most important factor in preventing rapid deterioration
- exercises – Physical activity slows the development of the disease
- choose a healthy diet – underweight and involuntary weight loss are typical of COPD
- replenish with vitamin D – Vitamin D deficiency is common at COPD so try to be out in the sun, eat foods rich in vitamin D (such as fish oil) or talk to your doctor about any supplements
- learn the Right Breathing Technique – Feel free to contact a physical therapist who can help you with breathing exercises and techniques that facilitate breathing
- avoid Infections – COPD means you have a poorer defense against infections, therefore you should vaccinate against flu and pneumococci (to reduce the risk of pneumonia ) and wash your hands well to minimize the risk of infection by viruses and bacteria.
To establish that this is COPD, you first need to perform tests that measure lung function through so-called spirometry. Pulmonary x-ray, sampling and ECG (electrocardiography) supplement the disease picture together with your medical history.
COPD cannot be cured, but it is possible to prevent further deterioration.
Smoking cessation and regular exercise are essential – in light form COPD. If you need treatment, it is governed by how severe your symptoms are, how often the symptoms worsen and how impaired your pulmonary function is. It is common to have bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory drugs inhaled.
In the case of chronic respiratory failure, you may need oxygen that both improves your quality of life and reduces the risk of serious complications. In some cases, surgery may be necessary and sometimes lung transplantation may be an option.
When to consult a doctor
If you suspect you have COPD, you should immediately contact your doctor to confirm the diagnosis. This is true even if you have less clear symptoms, yet feel unusually short of breath / trouble breathing during exertion.
If you already have a COPD diagnosis and get a respiratory infection or symptoms of pneumonia, you should also seek treatment.
Seek urgent care if you have difficulty breathing.
How Appotek can help
You can contact us at APPOTEK for help with COPD. A nurse or a physician will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms, after which you may be prescribed treatment or referred for further examination. COPD requires a physical examination.
If you have already been diagnosed with COPD and need to talk to someone to get help processing your feelings, you can talk with one of our psychologists.