COPD which is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is known as a condition that progressively makes it harder to breathe because the airflow into and out of the lungs is reduced. This usually occurs because the airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality, the walls between the air sacs are destroyed, the walls of the airways become swollen, or if the airways are clogged because they made more mucus than usual. Three main conditions of this disease are emphysema, chronic obstructive bronchitis, and asthma.
Most patients who suffer from COPD also suffer from emphysema and chronic bronchitis as to why they are commonly just defined as COPD.
The patients who experience one or more of these conditions usually find it even more difficult to breathe. It is known to be a major cause of disability, and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It is said that approximately 12 million people have been diagnosed with COPD while another 12 million may have it and don’t even know it. COPD is mostly caused by cigarette smoke; however, pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke, as well as, second-hand smoke can contribute to this disease. This disease can also be caused by inhalation of air pollution, chemical fumes or dust either in the workplace or from the environment.
COPD is usually found in patients of at least 40 years of age; however, it may affect a patient younger if they happen to have the genetic condition, which is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a protein made in the liver. This is an inherited deficiency that puts patients at a high-risk for lung disease. This deficiency occurs when the AAT proteins are not the right shape, which means they get trapped in the liver cells and cannot get into the bloodstream to travel to the lungs in order to protect them.
Signs and symptoms of COPD are chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and also the “smoker’s cough. ” The “smoker’s cough” is defined as an ongoing cough in which the patient produces large amounts of mucus. Severe COPD can cause symptoms such as weight loss and lower muscle endurance. If a patient is having a hard time catching their breath or talking, their not mentally alert, their heartbeat is very fast, their lips or fingernails turn gray, or blue or their recommended treatment which usually works isn’t work emergency treatment should be sought.
If a doctor is attempting to diagnose COPD, he will first determine whether or not the patient is a smoker, then look into the patient’s family and medical history as well as their signs and symptoms. The doctor will also perform an auscultation using a stethoscope to listen for any wheezing or abnormal chest sounds. If the diagnosis process isn’t completed at that point, the doctor may then perform lung function tests. There are many different lung function tests; those are a spirometry, a peak flow meter, a lung volume measurement, a lung diffusion capacity, pulse oximetry, or an arterial blood gas test.
A spirometry is a test to measure how much air you breathe in and out and how fast you blow it out. A peak flow meter is a small, hand-held device that shows how well air moves out of your lungs. A lung volume measurement like a spirometry measures how much air you can breathe in and out, however, it also measures the size of your lungs. A lung diffusion capacity determines how well oxygen passes through your lungs to your bloodstream. Last, are a pulse oximetry and an arterial blood gas test, both of these tests are used to see how much oxygen is in your blood.
The arterial blood gas test is usually what is used to determine how severe your COPD condition is. After COPD is diagnosed, different treatments may be advised. There is no cure for this condition, but certain treatments may help a patient to feel better, remain more active and also keep their condition from progressing so fast. First, the doctor will tell you if you are a smoker the best thing to do is to quit. And, depending on the severity of your COPD your doctor may advise you to see a pulminologist, who is a doctor who treats patients with lung problems.
Then, different medications may be prescribed such as bronchodilators, short-acting or long-acting again depending on the severity of the disease. Both are used to relax the muscles around your airways to help make breathing easier; however, short-acting is said to only last four to six hours, whereas, long-acting is said to last twelve hours or more. Most bronchodilators are used through metered-dose inhalers. Also, inhaled steroids may be prescribed to reduce the airways from swelling. Doctors will usually prescribe the steroid for a trial period of six weeks to three months.
Other treatments to help this disease from progressing may be pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and vaccines to prevent the patient from the pneumonia or the flu. Rarely, a patient may be advised to have surgery such as a bullectomy, which is a removal of one or more very large bullae of the lungs, a lung volume reduction surgery, which is used to removed damaged tissue from the lungs, or a lung transplant may also benefit patients who suffer from COPD. Although emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma are all conditions of this disease COPD, each condition affects the lungs slightly different.
Emphysema is the condition that affects the lungs almost the same way because just like COPD it involves damage to the air sacs within the lungs; however, chronic bronchitis and asthma are different. Chronic bronchitis is known as a long-term inflammation of the bronchi, which causes increased mucus and other changes. Asthma occurs when the muscles in the bronchial tubes tighten and the airways become blocked by the extra mucus the airways are producing. Emphysema just like COPD is more progressive than chronic bronchitis or asthma.
Patients with emphysema usually have shortness of breath and within later stages of the illness develop a chronic cough or sputum, whereas, patients with chronic bronchitis usually have a cough and develop sputum for many years before suffering from shortness of breath. And, for patients with asthma if proper treatments are followed then symptoms can be controlled. Causes of these conditions are also very similar. The most common cause for all of these conditions is smoking. The AAt deficiency can also play a role on patients who suffer from emphysema like COPD.
Other causes for emphysema are known to be the HIV infection, as well as, connective tissue disorders. Other causes for chronic bronchitis can be from bacterial or viral infections. And, many different causes for asthma are airborne allergens, like pollen, mold, animal dander, dust mites, etc. , exercise-induced asthma, cold air, and certain medications, like beta-blockers, aspirin and other NSAID’s. It is said that the menstrual cycle in some women, as well as, the gastroesophageal reflux disease, which causes stomach acids to back up into the throat can lead to an asthma attack.
And, allergic reactions to foods, like peanuts or shellfish can also cause an asthma attack. Symptoms of emphysema are known as a mild or chronic cough, loss of appetite and weight loss, and muscle fatigue. Symptoms for chronic bronchitis are known as a cough, spitting out of excess mucus, lips and skin may appear blue, abnormal lung signs, swelling of the feet, and heart failure. And, symptoms of asthma are chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath, a whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling, and trouble sleeping because of the shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing.
The diagnosis and treatments for both emphysema and chronic bronchitis are very similar as COPD, where pulmonary function tests, x-rays, and/or CAT scans may be performed to diagnose the condition. And different treatments may include bronchodilators, oxygen therapy, steroidal medications, and even possible lung surgery. Different procedures that may be used to diagnose the condition known as asthma are a methacholine bronchial challenge, where the patient inhales an asthma trigger called methacholine to mildly constrict the airways and a positive methacholine test will support the diagnosis.
Another test is known as the nitric oxide test, which is used to measure the amount of nitric oxide you have in your breath. If your airways are inflamed, that is a sign of asthma. Medications that may be prescribed to treat asthma symptoms are inhaled corticosteroids, like Flovent Diskus, Pulmicort, Azmacort, Aerobid; Long-acting beta-2 agonists, which are long-acting bronchodilators; Leukotrine modifiers, theophylline. Also, short-acting bronchodilators may also be prescribed such as albuterol, atrovent, and oral and intravenous corticosteroids.