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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease in which there is progressive damage of lungs. It is caused due to various factors (predominantly smoking) that leads to wheezing and shortness of breath. Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema (with either one dominant over the other) lead to COPD. Chronic bronchitis causes inflation and congestion of the bronchi (airways) thus obstructing the flow of air. In emphysema the air sacs are damaged and become enlarged, and this affects the efficiency of transferring the oxygen from lungs into the blood stream. The effect of these problems on the lungs is irreversible. However, if the person gives up smoking the effects of COPD can be lessened.

Symptoms

  • Coughing in the morning
  • Excessive coughing followed by wheezing throughout the day
  • Increased sputum production
  • Yellow and green sputum during winters due to frequent chest congestion
  • Breathlessness and fatigue after mild exertion

Cold weather might cause these symptoms to worsen. In extreme cases respiratory failure and lack of oxygen might cause lips, finger tips, toes and tongue to turn blue in colour. Ankles may swell due to kidney dysfunction and also lead to chronic heart failure.

Causes
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is primarily caused due to smoking. Other factors include constant exposure to air pollutants and smoke. Occupational exposure to lung irritants like dust, obnoxious gases or passive smoking can also cause COPD.

Diagnosis
If COPD is diagnosed early on, when its effects are mild, severe and progressive lung damage and symptoms can be avoided by giving up smoking or avoiding passive smoking, pollutants and irritants that are likely to trigger the disorder. However, most of the time the problem is addressed only when the symptoms become severe. This makes it difficult to manage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • On noticing symptoms or suspecting a COPD the person is advised to undergo a chest X ray and CT scan to rule out any other disorder and to detect any lung tissue damage.
  • Blood samples are tested for levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • An electrocardiography or echocardiography is also done to check for any unusual pumping of heart
  • The sputum is also checked for infections
  • COPD and asthma symptoms are similar. Hence, if the doctor suspects an asthma, he may¬† prescribe corticosteroids to relieve the symptoms. If no change is observed and the symptoms¬† persist, asthma is ruled out and COPD is diagnosed.

Treatment
Before starting a treatment for COPD, it is very essential to give up smoking. Simply giving up or cutting down on your smoking is not enough; avoiding pollutants and an environment that triggers COPD is also very important. Losing excess weight and starting simple exercises can increase your endurance levels and help in coping up with the disorder in a better manner. Initially your doctor might recommend using an inhaler containing bronchodialator drugs to open up the bronchi and make breathing easy. People who experience severe shortness of breath can be given oxygen therapy, which is used at least 15 hours every day to prevent heart failure. Any infection such as influenza can prove to be fatal in COPD. Hence, COPD patients are given influenza vaccinations to rule out this threat. In extremely severe cases in which the lungs are distended a surgery might be done to remove the damaged part of the lungs, thus allowing them to deflate easily and provide more oxygen. In terminally ill patients a lung transplant can also be advised.

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