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What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of disorders of the lung where there is long standing obstruction to airflow in the airways. It has a strong association with cigarette smoking and smoke inhalation.

Understanding COPD

Smoking is an important trigger to the beginning of COPD. The pathology lies in the small and large airways as well as the lung tissue. In advanced stages there are also noticeable changes in the lung blood vessels and there may be atrophy (thinning) of the diaphragmatic muscles (main muscle required for respiration).

Types:

  1. Chronic bronchitis
  2. Emphysema

How common is COPD?

It is very common among the smoker population. It accounts for about 8 million physician visits worldwide, 1.5 million hospitalizations and about a million deaths.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors for COPD?

  • Smoking
  • Occupational exposure to vapours and fumes
  • Childhood asthma
  • Increased airway responsiveness to allergens
  • Smoke inhalation (household smoke)
  • Previously treated for pulmonary tuberculosis

What are the Symptoms of COPD?

  • Presentation is generally a chronic cough
  • The cough is worsened by a trivial upper respiratory tract infection, generally viral in nature.
  • Breathlessness (dyspnoea) is the next most common symptom
  • Wheezing
  • Increased work of breathing
  • Bluish discoloration of lips, nail beds and oral cavity.

How is COPD diagnosed

  • Chest X Ray shows flattening of the diaphragm, increased area of lung shadow
  • The heart shadow is reduced
  • Lung function tests show a reduced airflow rates especially during the expiration (breathing out) phase.

The doctor may order a CT scan to get a better picture of the lung.

 How is COPD treated?

  • Quit smoking
  • Inhaled bronchodilators are given for long term basis to improve the airflow rates.
  • Oral or inhaled steroids are given to reduce airway inflammation.
  • Drugs to enhance clearance of mucous – expectorants for a short duration may be useful in clearing the airway during an exacerbation.
  • Regular steam inhalations and nebulisations

 What are the Complications with COPD?

What Lifestyle changes are recommended to prevent COPD?

  • Quit smoking
  • Reduction of weight
  • Reduce occupational exposure to fumes/ smoke
  • Exercise regularly including breathing exercises and Pranayam

How can one take care of someone with COPD?

Any increase in the frequency or change in quality of cough should be immediately reported to the physician. Due to aging of lung and heart in elderly the degenerative diseases of the same may show symptoms similar to COPD.

Early diagnosis does not warrant complete treatment but can certainly aid effective management and prevention of exacerbations. Regular chest physiotherapy and breathing exercises can help in prevention of the progression.

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