November Is … National COPD Awareness Month
While it might not garner as much attention as other diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a significant threat. According to the World Health Organization, there were 251 million cases of COPD across the globe in 2016.
Despite its prevalence, COPD might not be on a person's radar until they or someone they love is diagnosed with this disease of the lungs. But understanding COPD, which is an umbrella term that describes various progressive lung diseases, can help people lower their risk and potentially identify symptoms and seek treatment.
What is COPD?
The COPD Foundation notes that COPD is characterized by increasing breathlessness. The disease is currently incurable. However, treatment can help people effectively manage their COPD and breathe better. In fact, many people with COPD live for many years and continue to enjoy life after diagnosis.
What conditions fall under the umbrella of COPD?
Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory (non-reverse) asthma are three conditions that fall under the umbrella of COPD.
Emphysema: Damage to the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs in the lungs, causes emphysema. When this damage occurs, the walls inside the alveoli disappear, turning the small sacs into large sacs. The resulting larger sacs cannot absorb oxygen as effectively as the small sacs, so less oxygen is then absorbed into the blood. In addition, the lungs become stretched out and lose their springiness when the alveoli are damaged. The airways become flabby, trapping air in the lungs and creating feelings of shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis: Chronic bron chitis is caused when the bronchial tubes are irritated and become swollen. That damage causes coughing and shortness of breath. Bronchitis becomes chronic bronchitis when mucus comes up with the cough and the cough lasts for at least three months for two years in a row. The COPD Foundation also notes that, in healthy lungs, tiny hairs known as cilia help move mucus up the tubes of the lungs so it can be coughed out. When a person has chronic bronchitis, the tubes have lost their cilia, leading to more coughing and irritating the lungs even further and creating more mucus. The tubes of the lungs then swell, making it hard to breathe.
Refractory (non-reversible) asthma: During a typical asthma attack, bronchial airways tighten up and swell. Asthma medications can typically reverse this. However, refractory asthma does not respond to medication, leaving sufferers with tight, swollen airways.
Increased shortness of breath; frequent coughing, with and without mucus; increased breathlessness; wheezing; and tightness in the chest are some common symptoms of COPD.
Not all cases of COPD are the same, and people who feel any of the aforementioned symptoms should report them to their physicians immediately. Learn more at www.copdfoundation.org.