What is COPD?
COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a term commonly used for a group of lung conditions including but not limited to emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory asthma. The disease is mainly characterized by severe breathing difficulty and coughing, which is mistakenly concluded as the normal part of aging.
How prevalent is COPD?
It has been reported that in the United States, almost 26 million people are affected with COPD. It is considered to be the third leading cause of death in developed countries of the world. It has been observed that more than 50% of the adults with low PFT are not aware that they have COPD. Thus the actual figure for people suffering with the disease is thought to be way beyond the number reported.
The following groups are more susceptible to the disease:
- Aged people above 60 years.
- Individuals who are unemployed, retired or unable to work.
- People with low income groups.
- Current or former smokers
- Those with the family history of asthma.
Factors responsible for COPD:
It has been commonly concluded that tobacco smoke is the principal cause of the development of COPD. Both active as well as passive smokers are at higher risk of COPD. Other than tobacco, people who have long term exposure to air pollutants in the home as well as at workplace can also be affected with COPD.
Apart from the main cause, some of the secondary risk factors mentioned here can as well be related to the development of COPD such as:
- Family History.
- Preterm Birth.
Symptoms Associated with the COPD:
Initially, the condition may go on without any signs and symptoms. The disease, however, may worsen due to long term exposure of lungs to the irritants. The signs and symptoms of COPD patients may include:
- An ongoing cough, containing lot of mucus which is generally known as the smoker’s cough.
- Shortness of breath especially after physical activity with generally a wheezing sound.
- Tightness of chest.
- Attacks of flu like symptoms often.
Sometimes, symptoms are more severe depending upon the lung damage. They may include:
- Swelling of feet, ankles or legs.
- Low muscle endurance.
- Severe breathlessness.
- The lips or fingernails may turn blue or grey depending upon the oxygen level in the body.
- Your heart beat is very fast.
Prognosis associated with the COPD:
Based on the signs and symptoms, the diagnosis will be confirmed. Some of the medical tests that can be prescribed along with counselling for family history, habits, etc. can be as follows:
- Lung Function Test.
- Chest X Ray/ CT Scan.
As with conventional treatments there is no permanent cure available for the disease. Short term goals, however, are available to check the effectiveness of the treatment such as:
- Relieving symptoms.
- Slowing the progress of the disease.
- Improving exercise efficiency.
- Preventing and treating the complications.
What goes wrong with COPD?
It is important to know how our respiratory system works in order to understand COPD. Every time we breathe in, oxygenated air is passed on into our bronchial tubes via windpipes. These bronchial tubes are further branched into various tiny passages, known to be bronchioles. These bronchioles open into air sacs inside the lung. These air sacs are known as Alveoli. They act as balloons, after inhalation they get stretched and filled with the oxygenated air whereas during the process of exhalation; these alveoli shrink back.
These alveoli are made up of many tiny blood vessels called as capillaries, which supply oxygenated blood to the different parts of the body.
Air sacs and air ways lose their elasticity to stretch and compress.
- The walls of the air sacs are damaged due to long term exposure.
- The walls of the alveoli get thickened and inflamed due to which clogging of clean air takes place.
Thus for people with COPD, the flow of oxygenated air is obstructed. Due to the deprivation of oxygen COPD may give rise of many associated complications.
With the current treatment approach, it is not possible to reverse the damage associated with the disease or to stop its progression completely. However, with technical advancements various modern treatments are available, which are inexpensive, effective and less risky such as stem cell treatment.