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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month
November 21, 2019
Whats is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production and wheezing. It’s caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. It’s characterized by daily cough and mucus (sputum) production.
Emphysema is a condition in which the alveoli at the end of the smallest air passages (bronchioles) of the lungs are destroyed as a result of damaging exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritating gases and particulate matter.
COPD makes it harder to breathe. Symptoms may be mild at first, beginning with intermittent coughing and shortness of breath. As it progresses, symptoms can become more constant to where it can become increasingly difficult to breathe.
You may experience wheezing and tightness in the chest or have excess sputum production. Some people with COPD have acute exacerbations, which are flare-ups of severe symptoms.
Early symptoms include:
– occasional shortness of breath, especially after exercise
– mild but recurrent cough
– needing to clear your throat often, especially first thing in the morning
You might start making subtle changes, such as avoiding stairs and skipping physical activities.
Symptoms can get progressively worse and harder to ignore. As the lungs become more damaged, you may experience:
– shortness of breath, after even mild exercise such as walking up a flight of stairs
– wheezing, which is a type of higher pitched noisy breathing, especially during exhalations
– chest tightness
– chronic cough, with or without mucus
– need to clear mucus from your lungs every day
– frequent colds, flu, or other respiratory infections
– lack of energy
The main cause of COPD in developed countries is tobacco smoking. In the developing world, COPD often occurs in people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes.
Only about 20 to 30 percent of chronic smokers may develop clinically apparent COPD, although many smokers with long smoking histories may develop reduced lung function. Some smokers develop less common lung conditions. They may be misdiagnosed as having COPD until a more thorough evaluation is performed.
Exposure to tobacco smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers also may be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
People with asthma who smoke. The combination of asthma, a chronic inflammatory airway disease, and smoking increases the risk of COPD even more.
Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.
Exposure to fumes from burning fuel. In the developing world, people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes are at higher risk of developing COPD.
Age. COPD develops slowly over years, so most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin.
Genetics. The uncommon genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD. Other genetic factors likely make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease.
Unlike some diseases, COPD has a clear cause and a clear path of prevention. The majority of cases are directly related to cigarette smoking, and the best way to prevent COPD is to never smoke — or to stop smoking now.
If you’re a longtime smoker, these simple statements may not seem so simple, especially if you’ve tried quitting — once, twice or many times before. But keep trying to quit. It’s critical to find a tobacco cessation program that can help you quit for good. It’s your best chance for preventing damage to your lungs.
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