What is COPD?
We hear about COPD. What does this mean?
This is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
This is a lung problem that occurs over a long time, in relation to airflow limitation, lung inflammation, and exposure to particles or smoke that cause damage to the lining of the lungs and alveoli (the apparatus for oxygen exchange).
In response to the exposure to particles and smoke, the airways become inflamed: which causes excess sputum production as part of this inflammation. Over a period of time, the airways undergo other abnormal changes with remodeling and stiffness. The lungs then start to lose function and not able to act as an oxygen exchange tool.
At the end spectrum of COPD, oxygen exchange is not effective and some people require supplemental oxygen.
Not just smoke
Majority of COPD is caused by smoking cigarettes, pipe, or cigars. Other factors include occupational exposures to dusts, gases, or fumes. Open fire cooking predisposes to smoke inhalation and the onset of COPD. There are genetic factors to COPD (Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency: is seen in 1% of COPD). Untreated or poorly treated asthma can lead to COPD.
Summary: Most commonly, COPD is caused by smoking.
How does COPD present?
Typically, COPD may present with cough, shortness of breath, reduced exercise tolerance, wheezing, or recurring chest infections requiring antibiotics, history of smoking or occupational exposure.
Findings on exam: which could include but not limited to abnormal breath sounds.
Spirometry or lung function tests may show airflow limitation. These tests are performed by blowing into a device called spirometer. Spirometry test results are also used to categorize the severity of disease into mild, moderate, or severe.
Other tests include Chest xray or CT scan lungs.
Is there any solution to COPD?
Even though in most instances, the lung damage seen in advanced stages of COPD cannot be reversed, it is possible to prevent mild COPD from advancing to more serious COPD and to control moderate COPD from becoming worse.
And yes, quitting smoking is a major solution. Limiting exposure to occupational factors by utilizing job approved masks.
Pneumovax vaccine and COVID vaccine are important to get. This is because people with COPD who get pneumonia or Coronavirus respiratory infection, tend to have more serious illness and difficult outcomes.
In severe COPD, Pulmonary rehabilitation is essential to reduce deconditioning.
Written by Dr. Onuoha.
For education and knowledge. This is not medical advice.
Resources: Gold guidelines