What is COPD

Asthma is a fairly common and well known health problem, but the typical recognizable symptoms of asthma are not exclusive to asthmatics. COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a serious respiratory problem that can emerge as either a chronic form of asthmatic bronchitis or emphysema.  While it is possible for an individual to be diagnosed with one or the other of these problems and asthma is the most common, an individual who suffers from COPD is typically plagued by both.

The two illnesses comprising COPD are very similar in how they affect an individual, but they damage two different areas of the respiratory system. Asthmatic bronchitis affects the bronchial tubes- the airways that lead from the mouth to the lungs. The area becomes inflamed, narrowing the airway and causing an individual to suffer shortness of breath which can lead to coughing and wheezing.  Emphysema damages the aveoli- nearly microscopic air sacs scattered all along the inner wall of the lungs. When the aveoli begin to deteriorate and collapse, air can be trapped inside and it becomes harder for the lungs to expel it, resulting in shortness of breath and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

Though COPD attacks the lungs, prolonged suffering of this disease can result in high blood pressure, an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack, and depression. The heart and lungs work together to bring oxygen to the body, and problems affecting the lungs have a reciprocal affect on the heart. Likewise, a lack of oxygen affects the chemical balances of the brain and will leave one prone to feelings of depression, moodiness, and anxiety. Without treatment, COPD can even lead to an individual’s death, and this respiratory disease is one of the leading causes of death across the globe.

While smoking is the largest contributing cause of COPD, any irritant traveling through the air can bring on these symptoms. Other possible causes are dust, allergens, and fumes from chemicals and pollutants. Individuals with a multitude of allergy problems will be very susceptible to COPD, as will individuals living in areas with a high concentration of air pollutants. There are even some possible genetic factors that will make certain individuals more likely to contract the disease than others.

If an individual suspects they may have COPD, a visit to the doctor will provide a number of tests that can aid in diagnosis. Chest x-rays and CT scans can detect signs of emphysema and rule out other possible lung problems like cancer. Lab analyses of blood-gas levels in the arteries and sputum (mucus) can also determine how well the lungs are functioning and identify any bacterial infections. Finally, a spirometer can be used to test how much air an individual’s lungs are capable of holding, thus identifying possible problems with inflammation or lung failure.

COPD cannot be cured, but it can be treated, and it would be very wise to seek out all treatments available as failure to keep it under control can lead to the contraction of pneumonia and eventual death. Antibiotics can be used to fight off bacterial infections, and a prescribed inhaler can offer an individual steroidal medications and bronchodilators- a medication that aids in opening air pathways.

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