COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a dangerous disease that most often affects tobacco smokers. Due to the progressive nature of COPD, the consequences of the disease are not noticeable until years from the beginning of the problem. About 80% of COPD is caused by smoking.
Obstructive pulmonary disease is less of a media problem than lung cancer, but it is no less serious and, like lung cancer, one of the most important causes of death worldwide.
Obstructive pulmonary disease is less of a media problem than lung cancer, but is no less serious and, like lung cancer, one of the most important causes of death worldwide.
From smoking to the ultimate consequences
The workflow from smoking to full-blown COPD is as follows:
Irritating smoke damages the cilia of the respiratory tract and causes an overproduction of mucus
Obturation (reduction of the cross-section) of the bronchi and bronchioles due to the overproduction of mucus and the destruction of cilia leads to airflow limitation
Restricted air flow results in increased pressure in the alveoli and causes them to rupture and emphysema (the space that appears when the alveoli ruptures).
The gas exchange in the lungs is impaired
The further development of pulmonary hypertension is associated with the appearance of symptoms from organs other than the lungs. Muscle mass and weight are lost. The energy needed to pump blood through damaged lungs results in cardiovascular disorders. Among other things, high blood pressure leads to heart failure and the risk of heart attacks. The risk of stroke is increased. Lung damage significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
The diagnosis of COPD is largely based on medical history and risk factors (smoking).
Common symptoms include chronic cough, progressive shortness of breath, altered respiratory tract, cyanosis, and depression. Among people who tolerate hypoxia well, instead of cyanosis, there is a significant decline in exercise capacity and weight loss.
Important tests helping to make a diagnosis are: spirometry, X-ray, pulse oximetry, complete blood count and ECG (assesses damage to the heart). A rare cause of COPD is a genetically determined deficiency of the enzyme alpha1 antitrypsin. Research on genetic determinants is particularly important among people under 45, non-smokers.
A pink blower and a bluish blower
The clinical picture of a person suffering from COPD usually takes one of two forms: the form of a “pink puffer” or the form of a “bluebloater”. Although these terms are outdated, they allow for a fairly pictorial presentation of typical symptoms in a clear frame.
Pink puffer – this is a group of patient’s appearance features, when the patient’s dominant problem is emphysema. The characteristic features of the “blower” are: a slim body, breathing through the mouth, a tendency to support oneself in order to facilitate breathing, strongly developed additional respiratory muscles and severe shortness of breath.
Blue whelping – a set of features in which bronchitis is the dominant problem. The features of “puffer” are: obesity, clearly visible cyanosis of the nose, mouth, ears, fingertips, less breathlessness than in the case of the blower.
The described division becomes blurred as the disease progresses, and it does not affect the methods of treatment or diagnosis of the disease. Differences in physical characteristics in COPD result from individual variations among people and individual physical conditions.
Treatment of COPD
The most important factor in delaying disease progression is smoking cessation. In addition to quitting tobacco, regular exercise is extremely important. Adequate nutrition is essential. Obesity worsens the prognosis, it is best to achieve the optimal BMI. Insufficient caloric intake can also be dangerous for a COPD patient. The effort related to the need to compensate for the damaged respiratory system must be balanced by the provision of an appropriate energy load in the food.
Treatment of COPD includes non-drug treatments such as oxygen therapy and assisted ventilation. In the advanced form of the disease, palliative care is necessary, often in intensive care units.
Medications to limit the progression of the disease are designed to widen the airways. Medicines similar to those for asthma are used. The drug groups used are inhaled B2 mimetics, inhaled anticholinergic drugs, inhaled glucocorticosteroids and others.
Surgical methods, including lung transplantation, are sometimes used.
Quitting smoking is an important part of the COPD strategy. Help in quitting smoking is available through a medical consultation. The suspicion of COPD requires careful medical research.