COPD a disease of the lung as a direct result of its irritation due to smoke, dust, and other pollutants. Read about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment in this article.
COPD is an inflammatory lung disease that causes a progressive obstruction of airflow. Long-term exposure to irritants leads to COPD, mainly cigarette smoke, polluted air, toxic fumes, and dust. Although smokers are at high risk, this condition can affect non-smokers too.
The symptoms of COPD include breathing difficulty, severe productive cough, and wheezing. COPD increases the risk of the person developing heart problems, lung cancer, and many other serious conditions. This condition can be treated with proper management. With prompt treatment, most people live a symptom-free life with a reduced incidence of other associated diseases.
The two forms of emphysema are:
Emphysema - In this condition, there is a destruction of the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs and hence airway collapse.
Chronic bronchitis - In this condition, there is inflammation of bronchial tubes (tubes that carry air to and from the lungs alveoli). They form more mucus as a result of the irritation. There is a need for frequent throat clearing.
People usually do not experience any symptoms of COPD until significant lung damage has occurred. This damage only worsens with time and exposure to cigarette smoke.
Daily cough and mucus (sputum) production.
Shortness of breath.
Shortness of breath.
Some of the most common causes of COPD are:
Tobacco smoking - It is the leading cause of COPD in developed countries. Around 20 to 30 % of smokers develop symptomatic COPD.
Fumes of burning fuel - People in developing countries get COPD because of exposure to the fumes of burning fuel for cooking.
Secondhand or passive smoke.
Exposure to dust and fumes.
Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency - This is a genetic disorder that is caused by low levels of the protein alpha-1-antitrypsin. It affects around 1 % of people with COPD. This deficiency can affect the lungs and liver.
When you inhale, air travels to your lungs through the windpipe two large bronchi. In the lungs, these bronchi divide into numerous small bronchioles. Thes bronchioles end on tiny air sacs called alveoli. The walls of these air sacs are very thin walls and full of small capillaries. Oxygen present in the air that travels to the air sacs goes into these capillaries and gets mixed with the bloodstream, and the carbon dioxide is exchanged and exhaled out.
The natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and alveoli helps the lungs to force air out of the body. COPD makes these structures lose the elasticity, which results in some amount of air trapped in the lungs on exhalation.
The factors that increase the risk of COPD are:
Long term cigarette smoking, including pipe smokers, marijuana smokers, and cigar smokers.
Asthmatic people who smoke.
Exposure to chemical fumes and dust at the workplace.
Exposure to burning fuel while cooking in a poorly ventilated home.
People around 40 years of age.
The following are some of the possible complications of COPD:
Infections of the respiratory system - COPD patients are more prone to infections such as colds, the flu, and pneumonia. This infection can worsen breathing and further damage the lungs.
Heart conditions - It increases the risk of heart attack and other heart conditions.
Pulmonary hypertension - High blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
Lung cancer - Severe lung damage can lead to the development of lung cancer.
Depression - Breathing problems can interfere with daily activities and things that you enjoy, which can make you feel sad and depressed.
Diagnosis is by a combination of the following:
Auscultation - The doctor will listen to your breath sounds using a stethoscope.
Spirometry - The functioning of your lungs by measuring the airflow in and out of the lungs.
Chest X-ray - To rule out other lung problems and to see emphysema.
Arterial blood gas test - It is a blood test the measures the amount of oxygen brought in and carbon dioxide removed by the lungs.
Blood test to diagnose alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.
Treatment involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medicines.
Avoiding other lung irritants.
Eating small frequent meals so you do not strain yourself too much.
Carrying out only those physical activities and exercises that are approved by your physician.
Bronchodilator - Levalbuterol and Salmeterol.
Steroid for inhalation - Fluticasone and Budesonide.
Oral steroids - In severe cases.
Annual flu vaccination.
Oxygen therapy - Portable oxygen units can be used to increase the oxygen concentration in the blood.
Lung volume reduction surgery - Here, small damaged lung tissue are removed from the upper lungs.
Bullectomy - The surgeon removes damaged and enlarged air spaces called bullae.
If you are a smoker, this could be a direct cause of COPD. Quitting smoking and taking an antioxidant-rich diet will help prevent worsening and exacerbation of symptoms.
If there is exposure to fumes at your place of work, be sure to wear a special mask to protect yourself.
If you suffer from asthma, or frequent respiratory infections, flu, etc., it is advisable to stay away from cigarette smoke, be it first or second hand.
To know more about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, consult a pulmonologist online now!
The stages of COPD, according to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), include:
- Stage I - Mild - No symptoms but the lung function starts to decline.
- Stage II - Moderate - Symptoms like shortness of breath upon exertion.
- Stage III - Severe - The symptoms become severe.
- Stage IV - End-stage - The quality of life is impacted due to breathing and other respiratory problems.
COPD patients usually need oxygen supplementation in the end-stage. Such patients cannot carry out daily chores without getting extremely tired and exhausted.
Cigarette smoke and smoking, cold and humid weather, air pollution, respiratory infections, and dust are some of the most common factors that can trigger a COPD attack.
The structural and functional parts of the respiratory system and lungs are majorly affected by COPD, but apart from them, COPD also increases the risk of heart diseases, neurological problems, and skeletal defects.
COPD patients have a cough that produces a considerable amount of sputum or mucus. When they try to breathe, they wheeze or have a whistling sound.
A study showed that some COPD patients show the demyelinating type of optic nerve involvement, otherwise called optic neuritis. This can lead to a complete or partial loss of vision.
Exposure to chemicals, such as coal dust, isocyanates, silica dust, fumes and dust of cadmium, etc., have been said to cause COPD. Inhaling these chemicals along with smoking can severely increase the risk.
Smoking is considered to be the major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but this does not mean that all smokers will get COPD. Some COPD patients have never smoked in there life.
The 2-year survival rate for a patient with severe COPD is only 50 %
Last reviewed at:
25 Mar 2020 - 4 min read
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