Hello, in this HealthSketch we want to talk to you about COPD. COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it makes sense when you break it down. ‘Chronic’ describes how it doesn’t go away ‘Obstructive’ describes the way it makes breathing difficult, and ‘Pulmonary disease’ means it affects the lungs. Around the world, COPD is becoming more common it’s now the third highest cause of all deaths. The true number of people with COPD is likely to be much higher, as many people don’t know they have the condition.
An early diagnosis is important, so that treatment can be started to slow down the damage to the lungs. Most of the time, smoking is the cause of COPD, as particles from tobacco smoke inflame and irritate the lungs. So stopping smoking is the best thing smokers can do. However, COPD does occur in nonsmokers too. Polluted environments and rare genetic diseases can also lead to the disease. But what exactly is COPD? First let’s see how the lungs work. The lungs are a spongy network of airways and airsacs. When we breathe in, air travels down branching airways, which become smaller and smaller, ending up in tiny airsacs.
In these airsacs, oxygen from the air moves into the blood, and carbon dioxide moves out. In COPD, inflammation over time causes permanent damage to the airways and airsacs of the lungs. The airways become inflamed, swollen and filled with mucus, obstructing the flow of air The airsacs lose their structure and sponginess, so they can’t fill and empty as easily, making the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide difficult. These lung changes cause the key symptoms of COPD: breathlessness, wheeze, cough and phlegm. The symptoms worsen gradually over time, making daily activities harder. You should see your doctor if you have these symptoms, as early treatment of COPD/KOL can make a big difference. So how is COPD diagnosed and treated? After checking your symptoms, doctors can arrange breathing tests to see how hard and how fast you can blow out air from your lungs.
If you are found to have COPD, doctors will recommend the most appropriate treatment to help with symptoms and control the disease. For smokers, stopping smoking is the single most effective thing to do. Inhalers (which come in many forms) will be started, and contain medicines which help expand the airways and reduce inflammation. Using an inhaler can be tricky, but correct technique is essential for the medicine to be effective. Nurses, doctors and pharmacists can all help to teach the right way to use an inhaler. Also, people with COPD should get vaccinations to help prevent chest infections, and regular check ups to see how overall treatment is working. Treatment may be ‘stepped up’ according to your needs, and other medications may be prescribed as well.
Sometimes, people with COPD have episodes of severe breathlessness called ‘exacerbations’. Exacerbations can be triggered by infections, cold weather or other irritants. It’s important to recognise these ‘flare ups’ as the earlier treatment is given, the less likely symptoms will get worse. Antibiotics and steroids are often used, and sometimes oxygen therapy is needed. In severe cases, a stay in hospital may be required, but in milder cases, treatment can but in milder cases, treatment can be given effectively at home. Besides medication, there are many other ways to improve COPD symptoms. A ‘Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programme’ is a great way to get education and support, tailored to your needs, and it has been proven to be one of the best ways of improving quality of life. A programme may include: Chest physiotherapy to help overcome breathlessness and manage phlegm.
Regular light exercise. Nutritional advice, as weight loss is common in COPD. Counselling – to help stay motivated when feeling low or anxious. Support groups – to connect with others with the same experiences, questions and feelings Remember, stopping smoking will make the biggest difference, and it’s never too late to quit. This can be challenging, but local stop smoking services are available, and smokers are much more likely to quit with their support.
Nicotine replacement and other medications can reduce the urge to smoke, and have been proven to be effective. In this HealthSketch, we’ve talked about what COPD is and its causes; its key symptoms and treatments; and the lifestyles changes that can make a big difference. We hope this HealthSketch about COPD has been helpful for you and those around you. HealthSketch ‘Health for all to see’ .