Men's Health, Women's Health, Your Health Seth Stratton | 6 years ago

Know the Foe: Recognizing and Treating COPD

If you, a family member or a friend has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, questions are bound to come up. Here are some of the most common questions -- and answers -- related to COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be debilitating. It refers to two long-term lung diseases – chronic bronchitis and emphysema – that often occur together, making breathing difficult

What causes COPD?

COPD is a lung disease most commonly caused by smoking tobacco products, according to pulmonologist Daniel Howard, MD, a pulmonary disease specialist with Carolinas Medical Center. “However,” he says, “20 percent of the time it can result from other environmental or occupational exposures – particularly exposures to exhaust from biofuels – hereditary factors, or chronic asthma.”

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

The most common COPD symptoms are:
  • A cough that doesn't go away
  • Coughing up lots of mucus
  • Shortness of breath (especially with activity)
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest

How is COPD diagnosed?

By examining a patient’s medical history and doing a physical exam with breathing tests, including spirometry – a test that measures how much air the lungs can hold and how fast the air is blown out of the lungs.

What are the treatments for COPD?

There is no cure for COPD, but effective treatment can ease symptoms. Treatments include:
  • Bronchodilators – medicines (often inhaled) that help open airways
  • Corticosteroids – medicines that reduce airway inflammation
  • Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections when present
  • Flu and pneumonia vaccines to reduce chances of these infections
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – a program of exercise, disease management and counseling
  • Oxygen therapy – extra oxygen to reduce shortness of breath and protect the heart and other organs

How can someone stay healthy while battling COPD?

Most importantly, smokers are encouraged to quit. Additionally, those with COPD should stay away from fumes, dust and air pollution as much as possible. Medication regimens need to be adhered to as well, and regular visits to their doctor. Patients can also learn breathing exercises, walk or do light exercises as well as maintaining a nutritious diet.

What can someone with COPD do to conserve energy?

They shouldn't be a couch potato, but they should put themselves and their comfort first by keeping things they use most often within reach.

What are the complications of living with COPD?

COPD patients are more likely to get colds, the flu or pneumonia. They are also more likely to have an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.

When should I call for help?

If someone with COPD experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911 right away:
  • Trouble walking or talking
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Lips or fingernails turning blue
  • Breathing becomes fast and hard even when on COPD medications