COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This lung disease causes breathing difficulties and progressively worsens overtime. Cigarette smoking has been found to be the number one contributor to this type of lung disease. Most patients diagnosed with COPD smoke or have smoked for a long period during their lifetime. Other substances that can irritate the lungs, such as dust, chemical fumes, secondhand smoke, and air pollution can also be a contributing factor to lung disease like COPD.
Common Signs and Symptoms of COPD
The signs and symptoms of COPD usually come on gradually and get worse as time goes on. Sometimes the disease even starts without any symptoms. Common COPD or lung disease signs and symptoms include:
• A cough that does not go away
• A cough that is productive with a lot of mucous
• Shortness of breath, more so during physical exertion
• A squeaking or whistling noise during breathing, also known as wheezing
• Tightness in the chest
• Frequent episodes of colds and the flu
These symptoms can be very similar to those of other conditions and diseases. Only a physician can diagnose you with COPD. Continuing to smoke or expose yourself to other lung irritants will make the disease progress even faster. As the COPD worsens you may experience swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet. You may also notice some weight loss and a decrease in muscle endurance. Most of the aforementioned symptoms can be managed and treated at home; however, the following signs and symptoms are more severe and may require you to go to the hospital for treatment:
• Unable to catch your breath or speak
• A blue or gray color to your lips or fingernails (a sign of low oxygen levels in the blood)
• Mental sluggishness
• Fast heartbeat, also known as tachycardia
• Current treatment is not working or other symptoms are worsening
Treatment for COPD
Currently COPD does not have a cure. This can be very discouraging for those with this disease. However, by managing this lung disease appropriately and making some smart lifestyle changes, patients with COPD can still live long lives and enjoy quality of life. By following a doctor directed treatment plan for lung disease you can relieve your symptoms, slow the progress of COPD, maintain your ability to stay active, prevent and treat complications and improve your overall health. In addition to your family or primary care physician, you may also need to see a pulmonologist or lung specialist to help in the treatment of COPD.
Making Lifestyle Changes: Putting Out the Smoke
If you smoke, do whatever you can to quit. Breaking the habit of smoking is the single most important action you can take to improve your health and manage COPD. Your family doctor can recommend medications, support groups, and other programs to help you on your journey to quit. Avoiding secondhand smoke is also very important to treating this disease and managing symptoms. You should also avoid places where you are exposed to dust, fumes, and toxic substances that can be inhaled.
Making Lifestyle Changes: Nutrition
Many patients with COPD also find it difficult to eat due to their shortness of breath and general everyday fatigue. This can worsen the more severe the disease is. If you find it difficult to eat due to your lung disease, it is quite possible that you are not consuming the calories and important nutrients you need. This, in turn, can increase your risk of infections and make your COPD worse, as well as cause you to lose weight. Let your doctor know about these symptoms and any discomfort you have with eating. Your doctor can suggest some changes surrounding what and when you eat to help you consume enough calories and nutrients to maintain your health. You can also talk to your doctor about the types of physical activity you can participate in and what activities you should avoid. Physical activity can help you improve your total health and breathing.
Medications for COPD
More than likely, at some point, you will need to take some medications to manage your disease and keep it from getting worse. Bronchodilators are one class of medication used to treat COPD. These types of medications open the airways and make breathing easier by relaxing the airway muscles. Most bronchodilators are administered via inhaler. There are also bronchodilators that contain steroids, which help decrease inflammation of the airways. However, steroids are not the first line of treatment when using medication.
Many with COPD also benefit from the use of supplemental oxygen therapy. This can be used around the clock, just at night, or just whenever you feel like you need it. If you become short of breath while completing normal tasks, you may need to discuss oxygen therapy with your physician.
COPD does not have to be a life sentence to a poor prognosis or even a death sentence. With advances in medicine and technology, many COPD patients are living longer lives and still enjoying their lives until the day that they die. By following the treatment advice of your physician, you can still participate in your favorite activities and live a long fulfilling life.