What causes Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and what are the Symptoms?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is a chronic, debilitating and preventable disease. There are approximately 12 million people worldwide dealing with COPD and an estimated 12 million more that are undiagnosed. In 2008 it was ranked the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. COPD develops slowly and the onset of symptoms usually begins after the age of 40. COPD is thought to be a result of long term exposure to lung irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes found in the cotton textile industry and occupational dusts found in coal and gold mining. There is no known cure for COPD, however as with other chronic diseases, diagnosis, treatments and lifestyle changes can slow the progression of the disease and help the patient lead a more active and independent life.
In order to understand COPD, it helps to understand how the lungs work. When you breathe, air
goes down your windpipe and into the bronchial tubes or airways in/your lungs. The bronchial tubes are shaped like upside down trees with branches shooting out in all directions. At the end of each branch are tiny elastic air sacs called alveoli. As you breathe, the alveoli inflate and deflate like small balloons. In COPD, less air flows in and out of the alveoli because of two main conditions associated with COPD, emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis. With emphysema, the alveoli have decreased elasticity’ and the walls between the alveoli become swollen or are destroyed, leading to fewer and larger air sacs. With chronic obstructive bronchitis, the lining of the bronchial tubes are constantly inflamed and irritated causing mucus to form thus clogging the alveoli and making it harder to breathe.
The signs and symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and a persistent cough. However, not everyone with these symptoms has COPD and not everyone with COPD has these symptoms. Consult with a physician to determine if these symptoms are related to COPD or some other illness with similar symptoms. There are a number of factors to consider when a physician makes a diagnosis of COPD. A complete medical and family history will be taken by the physician. They will also listen for wheezing and other abnormal chest sounds using a stethoscope. If they feel that it is necessary, tests will then be ordered. These tests include lung function tests, chest x-ray or chest CT and an arterial blood gas test. The lung function test is called a spirometry. It measures how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can blow air out, and how well your lungs can deliver oxygen to your blood. It can also help to diagnosis other conditions such as asthma and heart failure. The chest x-ray or CT will take detailed images of lungs to determine if there is damage to the bronchial tubes or alveoli. The blood gas test measures the oxygen levels in the blood and helps to determine the severity of the COPD.
As always, do not self-diagnose. The information given is intended to enlighten the reader about COPD and other chronic diseases. Next month we will discuss the treatment, prevention and management of COPD.
For more information please contact Assisting Hands Home Care at 281-540-7400 or visit us on the web at www.assistinghands. com, or the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website.