Diabetes takes a second seat to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). This chronic disease of the lungs affects more than twice as many people as Diabetes and is the nation’s fourth leading cause of death. In 2003 approximately 122,000 Americans lost their lives to COPD. In 2001 the American Lung Association reported that more than 16,000,000 people have been diagnosed with COPD and possibly another 16,000,000 may be undiagnosed. Undoubtedly these numbers have increased substantially today.
What is COPD?
COPD is a chronic disease of the lungs that is not curable. Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis fall into this category. Asthma is not typically included in COPD although it is believed by some physicians that Asthma is also a factor in developing COPD. If Asthma episodes remain untreated they can lead to permanent lung damage. Once your lungs become damaged it is irreversible. There is no cure.
It is important for COPD sufferers to strive to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and nutritious meals and by following a consistent exercise program. Avoid being exposed to the common cold; get flu shots early in the season and all COPD patients should be given a Pneumonia shot.
What is the cause of COPD?
Smoking is the number one culprit and second hand smoke runs a close second. According to the American Lung Association 90% of COPD deaths are caused by smoking. Women smokers are 13% more apt to die as a result of COPD than women who never smoked. In 2003 more women died from COPD than men. Air pollution, a history of childhood respiratory infections, and genetics are among other causes of COPD.
What is Chronic Bronchitis?
Chronic Bronchitis is the irritation, inflammation and ultimate scarring of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Less air is allowed to flow to and from the lungs and heavy mucus accumulates and causes severe coughing. When the bronchial tubes are irritated and inflamed for a long period of time, excessive mucus is produced. When this happens the lining of the bronchial tubes thickens, an annoying cough develops and air flow is obstructed, thus scarring of the lungs. Bacterial infections breed in the airways of the bronchial tubes and ultimately cause less airflow to the lungs.
Chronic Bronchitis is often neglected because it does not strike suddenly. It comes on slowly and lungs can be seriously damaged before an individual contacts their doctor. Thus, an individual is in danger of developing a serious respiratory condition or heart failure. Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis are chronic cough, increased mucus, frequent clearing of the throat, wheezing and shortness of breath.
What is Emphysema?
Emphysema develops from irritation and inflammation to the lungs brought on by years of cigarette smoking causing permanent lung damage. The air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs are destroyed by cigarette smoking. This is the beginning of Emphysema. The walls between the air sacs and lungs deteriorate and lose their capacity to stretch and recoil causing permanent holes to develop in the tissue of the lower lungs. Loss of elasticity of lung tissue causes air to be trapped in the air sacs which weakens the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. As the air sacs are damaged and the lungs lose their elasticity exhaling becomes more difficult. Less oxygen is transferred to the bloodstream resulting in shortness of breath. Emphysema comes on very slowly.
According to a report from the American Lung Association in 2006, 91% of Emphysema sufferers are over 45 years or older. Approximately 55% of men suffer from Emphysema while only 45% of women suffer from Emphysema. Within the past year the percentage of men with Emphysema has decreased approximately 19% while the percentage of women with Emphysema has increased approximately 20%.
The Alpha-1-Antitrypsin (ATT) protein is produced by the liver and is a lung protector. An inherited deficiency of the ATT protein can be the cause of ATTrelated Emphysema. It is almost certain that an individual with an ATT deficiency will develop ATT-Emphysema. ATTdeficiency Emphysema is responsible for 5% or less of Emphysema in this country
It is estimated that over 100,000 Americans, mainly descendants of Northern Europeans have ATT-deficiency Emphysema. The single deficient gene that causes Alpha-1 is carried by more than 25,000,000 Americans and that gene can be passed on to their children. The American Lung Association reports that there are over 116,000,000 carriers among all racial groups of the single deficient gene worldwide.
Symptoms of Emphysema are shortness of breath, coughing and a restricted exercise tolerance. An individual must undergo examination, be subjected to a variety of tests including a pulmonary function test, and a patient’s history must be explored before Emphysema can be diagnosed. Likewise, symptoms of ATT-deficiency Emphysema are shortness of breath and restricted exercise tolerance. ATT-deficiency Emphysema usually commences between the ages of 32 to 41. Blood screening and DNA based cheek swab are used to detect carriers of ATT-deficiency Emphysema.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a breathing problem that also restricts airflow in and out of your lungs. An Asthma episode can be triggered by smoke, pollen, dust, air pollution and allergies. Food allergies play a big part in the onset of an Asthma episode. An Asthma episode can develop with bouts of wheezing and coughing. Asthma and COPD have the same symptoms and it is hard to distinguish between the two. Exposing yourself to infections, certain types of exercise and cold weather may cause wheezing, shortness of breath and other symptoms of both Asthma and COPD making them worse.
An Asthma episode may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days while COPD episodes can last from a week to several months or longer. COPD affects mostly older persons and smokers while Asthma sufferers affect individuals of all ages.
Some COPD patients are able to keep their Asthma under control by using inhalers prescribed by their treating physician such as Advair, Spiriva and Symbicort, to name a few. Albuterol or Proventile inhalers are prescribed to be used when an acute episode of Asthma occurs. Serious episodes are treated with a Nebulizer.
Individuals with symptoms of COPD and/or Asthma should seek the advice of their healthcare professional as to the treatment most suited to their condition.
Talk to your treating physician about pulmonary rehabilitation. This is an exercise treatment which includes, among other things, strength training and working out on an aerobic exercise treadmill or cycle ergometer. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a precautionary healthcare program to enable COPD sufferers to deal with COPD generally, physically and psychologically.