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COPD: The Basics

Did you know that COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States? Millions of people are affected by this disease and some might even have COPD without even knowing.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, otherwise known as COPD, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. With COPD, less air flows in and out of the lungs.

The word progressive is used because the disease gets worse over time.

COPD is a general term that encompasses two chronic conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. However, since most patients have both illnesses, the general term COPD is used.

It’s a scary statistic. That’s why today we are going to discuss the causes of COPD, its symptoms, treatment and prevention.

Causes of COPD

The main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. However, although that’s the primary cause, only about 20 percent of chronic smokers develop COPD. Long-term exposure to lung irritants, such as pollution, chemical fumes or dust, may also contribute to a COPD diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

Some of the most common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Fatigue
  • Chronic cough that produces large amounts of mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday tasks
  • Chest tightness
  • Blueness of fingernail beds or lips

Many people who are suffering from COPD do not face these symptoms until the later stages of the disease.

If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms and think it could potentially be COPD, don’t wait for the symptoms to worsen. It’s important that you contact a doctor immediately to begin valuable treatment as soon as possible.

COPD Treatment

There are a variety of ways to treat COPD. However, the following are the most common forms of treatment:

  • Smoking cessation – Quitting smoking is perhaps the most important step that you can take in order to treat COPD. Talk with your primary care physician about nicotine replacement products and medications to support the effort.
  • Medications – There are a wide variety of medications that a person can take in order to treat the symptoms of COPD. Some of these medications include:

Bronchodilators – This medication comes in an inhaler and helps relax the muscles around the airways. This form of medication can help relieve the coughing and shortness of breath that are associated with COPD.

Inhaled steroids – To reduce airway inflammation and to help prevent exacerbations (a sudden worsening of symptoms), inhaled corticosteroid medications can be used.

Combination inhalers – This medication combines bronchodilators and inhaled steroids.

Oral steroids – This form of medication is meant for those with moderate or severe acute exacerbation and can help prevent the worsening of COPD.

Antibiotics – Influenza, pneumonia and acute bronchitis can aggravate COPD symptoms. Antibiotics can help to combat acute exacerbations.

Therapy – Oxygen therapy will help to deliver oxygen to the lungs, and includes the use of lightweight, portable units. This form of therapy will not only improve the quality of life, it has also been proven to extend life as well. Additionally, pulmonary rehabilitation programs combine counseling, nutrition advice, education and exercise training to help increase your ability to participate in everyday activities. Through this type program, you will work with different specialists in order to fine tune a program that will meet your personal needs.

Prevention

Early detection is the most effective way to prevent COPD.

However, avoiding the lung irritants that can contribute to this disease can also help in preventing COPD.

As always, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician if you or your loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above or if you want to learn more about COPD.

Sources:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd

http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/about-copd/symptoms-diagnosis-treatment.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/basics/treatment/con-20032017

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