CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of chronic inflammatory diseases that affect the lungs by obstructing the airway. Inflammation in the lining of the bronchial tubes causes an obstruction in the airway to the lungs, causing problems with breathing. These conditions may progress, and when left untreated, this condition may cause respiratory infections, heart problems, lung cancer, high blood pressure and depression as it affects the quality of life.
WHAT CAUSES CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE?
People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) commonly have emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and thus these are the most common conditions that lead to COPD.
Emphysema causes damage to the fragile walls of the alveoli in the lungs, causing them to collapse when exhaling and block the airflow out of the lungs. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, causes the bronchial tubes to become inflamed and narrowed. The lungs then produce more mucus which can obstruct breathing through these narrowed tubes.
In addition, these conditions are agitated by cigarette smoke and other irritants such as second-hand smoke, air pollution and exposure to dust, smoke or fumes in the workplace.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
This condition makes breathing difficult due to obstruction in the airway. Because it is progressive, it may get worse as time goes on. At first, it may begin with a mild cough or shortness of breath where later it becomes constant making it increasingly difficult to breathe.
Early symptoms may include:
- shortness of breath, especially after exercise
- a mild cough
- a sensation of needing to clear your throat often
These symptoms may progress, and the following may be experienced:
- shortness of breath, after even mild exercises
- tightness of the chest
- a chronic cough
- the urge to clear mucus from your throat
- frequent colds, flu and respiratory infections
In later stages you may experience:
- severe fatigue
- swelling of the feet, ankles or legs
- · weight loss
Often episodes, called exacerbations, may occur during which these symptoms become drastically worse than usual, which may last a few days.
As a Specialist Physician, Dr Kenaope has the expertise to diagnose and treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In order to accurately diagnose you, your physician may conduct the following diagnostic test:
- Lung function tests – these tests may be done to measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, as well as to see if your lungs are oxygenating the blood sufficiently for the body to function correctly (this may also be tested using an arterial blood gas analysis). Lung function tests may include a spirometry, lung volume measurement, diffusing capacity or pulse oximetry test.
- A bronchoscopy test – this test may be done to allow your physician to have a look at the internal structures in the airways. By threading a bronchoscope with a camera at the end through the nose or mouth down to the lungs, Dr Kenaope may see the internal airways on a video screen. It is done to look for mucus, infection and blockage.
- Exercise stress test – by making you run on a treadmill, your breathing rate is increased, and he can see if exercise triggers symptoms of COPD.
- A chest X-ray – may be done to view the presence of emphysema, as well as rule out other lung problems or heart failure.
- A CT scan – a scan of your lungs may help your physician detect emphysema. A CT scan may also aid him in choosing a treatment method and whether or not you are a candidate for surgery.
Once diagnosed with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), if you are a smoker, your physician will advise that you stop smoking immediately. He may also help you with nicotine replacement products and medications that might help you quit smoking. While chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has no cure, treatment may be able to manage symptoms and prevent further progression. Dr Kenaope will educate you on your diagnosis and provide exercise training advice, nutrition advice and counselling with other medical specialists to improve your quality of life.
For treatment, Dr Kenaope may suggest a combination of medications such as bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, combination inhalers or oral steroids for those with moderate symptoms while those with severe COPD may benefit from phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, theophylline and antibiotics. Aside from medications, lung therapies may help treat and manage this condition.
Oxygen therapy may aid those with this condition by assisting the lungs in oxygenating the blood to maintain the functioning of the body. Oxygen therapy may be used all the time, or when doing exercise or sleeping and may increase the quality of life.
In severe and suitable cases, he may suggest that you consider surgery. Lung volume reduction surgery, bullectomy or lung transplant surgery can be very useful in treating those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for which medication has not been effective.
COPD requires lifelong disease management. Because your lungs are weaker, you will need to avoid lung-taxing activities and triggers such as second-hand smoke, chemical fumes, air pollution, and dust. Your lifestyle may need to change, and a healthy diet should be followed to manage your condition.
Your diagnosis comes with the responsibility to manage exacerbations. When symptoms become worse for periods of time, we call it an exacerbation. These exacerbations may be caused by respiratory infection, air pollution or other triggers of inflammation that cause symptoms to become more severe than normal. It is essential to seek additional treatment for acute symptoms to prevent lung failure.