Imagine a person submerged underwater and only being able to come up to the surface for short breaths. His or her lungs would burn from the pressure of the water and the inability to breathe. The brain and the rest of the body would suffer due to lack of oxygen.
This is a familiar analogy that is often used by people to describe their debilitating breathing disorder. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is one of the most prevalent disorders of the lungs.
The symptoms of COPD may include wheezing, coughing, multiple respiratory infections, heaviness in the chest with difficulty catching one’s breath, and fatigue. This condition worsens over time and can greatly limit one’s ability to function normally. Even something as simple as cooking dinner for a family can become a great problem.
While COPD is mostly found in elderly adults, this condition can affect anyone at any time. Statistically, people who smoke are more prone to developing COPD; however, there are other risk factors that can make people susceptible to it.
These factors can be working around certain hazardous gases or fumes for an extended period of time, breathing around poorly vented heating or cooking sources, or exposure to heavy pollution or second-hand smoke.
COPD symptoms can be divided into two basic categories: gradual deterioration of the lungs due to emphysema or chronic bronchitis with a constant, productive cough. The signs and symptoms of COPD are easy to notice, because the nagging cough just seems to never go away. Many people with COPD also have problems with asthma which can further complicate matters.
To check for COPD a doctor will compare a patient’s symptoms with other common symptoms for COPD. If a person has a persistent cough that does not seem to improve and is accompanied by mucus, this is enough to warrant further testing. The Spirometry is a machine that is used to check how much air the person breathes out.
This test is completely painless and is a good indicator of COPD. The patient puts a clamp on their nose and inhales and blows into a tube. The tube measures the air flow and records the data onto a machine. Because lack of oxygen is one of the first signs of COPD, this test is very important.
Other tests that may be performed are the chest x ray or a CT scan. These can detect any abnormalities in the lungs and take a closer look at the blood vessels. The purpose of these tests is to see if another problem is causing the shortness of breath, like a heart condition. Lastly, a doctor may order an arterial blood gas test. This test will measure how much oxygen is in the blood. The oxygen levels in the blood taken from an artery can show how severe the COPD is.
Though the signs and symptoms of COPD are hard to mistake, there is no cure for this condition. In fact, the main treatment options are to try to control the inflammation in of the bronchioles with Bronchodilators and inhalers for help breathing during attacks. By relaxing the airways and reducing inflammation, it can improve breathing abilities and lessen coughing spells.
In serious cases surgery is an option, but this is a last resort method. The surgical options are to reduce the size of the lungs and to remove the portion that is affected by the COPD. When the symptoms for COPD are too severe and the quality of life is decreased, a lung transplant may be considered.
COPD symptoms make live unbearable and since this is a degenerative condition, they only get worse. People who live with this condition may be more susceptible to the flus and other infections making the symptoms of COPD become aggravated.
The signs of COPD are easy to spot. They usually appear as a cold that never goes away or increased difficulty breathing or both. A good evaluation by a doctor can definitely diagnose the condition known as COPD.