Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for lung disorders.
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also known as chronic obstructive lung disease, is a blanket term used to describe lung disorders like chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD sufferers have trouble breathing due to airflow blockage leading to, and caused by, damage of the lungs.
COPD is a long term chronic illness made significantly worse if the patient smokes. The American Lung Association declares COPD to be the third leading cause of death in the United States.
COPD symptoms come on slowly and affect the ability to breath.
The symptoms of COPD are common of those who use tobacco products and develop slowly, often presenting as a nagging cough. If left untreated, not only do symptoms increase but lung damage worsens leading to frequent hospitalizations, possible need for daily oxygen, and even death. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
COPD sufferers may experience symptoms typically associated with bronchitis, emphysema or both including:
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough, with or without mucous
- Recurrent respiratory infections
Patients may experience many exacerbations of the disease, times when the symptoms seem to be worse and more difficult to manage.
Smoking is the leading cause for COPD.
The number one cause of COPD and its associated respiratory distress is smoking. Cessation of smoking will not reverse lung damage but will prevent further damage and ease treatment of symptoms. Prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke is also a contributing factor.
Environmental hazards, including pollution, chemical fumes and gasses, can also lead to the asthma, emphysema and bronchitis associated with COPD. People who work in hazardous occupations such as brick makers, textile manufacturers, welders, coal miners, foundry workers and agricultural farmers, to name a few, should be wary of these potential risks and take necessary precautions (like wearing masks and working in ventilated spaces) when in direct or prolonged contact with airborne irritants.
COPD treatment relies heavily on prescription drug and oxygen therapy.
COPD is a chronic progressive disease that cannot be cured. Fortunately, there are many treatment options to help lessen symptoms and decrease exacerbation episodes. Bronchodilators, antibiotics, inhaled steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs are all useful in treating symptoms.
Before a physician devises a treatment plan, he/she will perform a physical exam, paying particular attention to lung sounds. Lab work may be studied to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. A chest X-ray and/or CT scan may be examined and spirometry used to check lung function. In some cases, sputum examination may be performed.
Once a diagnosis has been obtained, the doctor will prescribe a fairly regimented treatment program with other medications/therapies used only as needed.
Bronchodilators. These relax airway muscles and may be prescribed for a short term or everyday use depending upon the severity of symptoms.
Oral Corticosteroids. These reduce lung inflammation during flare-ups. Inhaled steroids may also be given for severe exacerbations
Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. Used for long-term treatment of breathing difficulties such as wheezing, chest tightness and bronchospasms.
Antimicrobials. These are used to combat respiratory infections.
For COPD symptoms that have progressed, oxygen therapy, intravenous steroids and surgery may be required.
Given the severity of COPD symptoms, little exists for alternative treatments.
COPD can be serious and potentially life-threatening. It is important for patients to manage and treat this disease as prescribed by their physician and to discuss any natural or herbal medication with them before taking to avoid potential side effects or interference with prescription drugs.
Herbs commonly used as alternative treatment for COPD include:
Echinacea – An herbal remedy believed to stimulate the body’s immune system.
Antioxidants – Natural or synthetic. Used to boost the immune system.
Ginseng – Believed to support overall health and increase stamina.
Quitting smoking is the best way to prevent COPD.
Cessation of a smoking habit is the number one thing a patient can do to prevent or reduce the symptoms of COPD. Nicotine abuse is the number one factor for the development of COPD. Even secondhand smoke increases the risk for this chronic lung disease.
Drugs commonly prescribed to help those who want to quit smoking:
- Clonidine – Used to treat nicotine withdrawal
Find support for COPD online.
For more information on the treatment, care, prevention, and management of COPD, reach out to these fine organizations.
American Lung Association – http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/
COPD Foundation – http://www.copdfoundation.org/