A Crash Course on COPD

We hear of COPD and chronic bronchitis often, especially around the wintertime. Here is what you need to know about COPD.

What is COPD?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is not one illness but instead a combination of illnesses that obstruct the airways and make it difficult to breathe. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the most common contributors to COPD, with bronchitis causing inflammation in the bronchiole tubes. Emphysema, on the other hand, involves the death of alveoli at the end of the bronchioles.

Who is at Risk?

While COPD is not contagious, it is surprisingly common,with the most common cause of COPD being exposure to cigarette smoke. Emphysema itself is caused by extensive exposure to air pollutants, including cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, and dust, which can lead to COPD developing. The risk of COPD is increased if the person exposed has asthma. Some cases of COPD may also be hereditary.
Fortunately, COPD is easy to test for, and doctors will often request spirometry tests, blood tests, and imaging tests to fully determine if a patient has COPD.

Common Symptoms

Most major signs of COPD occur during the later stages of the illness, so knowing common symptoms early on is vital. Early-stage symptoms include frequent shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the chest, frequent respiratory infections, lack of energy, and a frequent cough that brings up green, discolored mucus. If you frequently experience respiratory infections and these other symptoms, consider talking to your doctor immediately.
Later stages of COPD have different symptoms, including swelling at the feet and ankles, fatigue, and sudden weight loss. Contact a doctor immediately if your heart is racing, you feel confused or faint, have trouble breathing, or have bluish fingertips or lips—these are all signs your blood oxygen levels are low.

Treating COPD

Everyone’s experience with COPD is different, and some will react differently to medications than others. Thus,there are many different ways to treat COPD. Medications are a common treatment and can help those who respond well to them breathe easier by reducing lung inflammation and have fewer flare-ups. Oxygen supplements can help others get a higher oxygen intake, and physical therapy can help people have more control over their flare-ups and respiratory health through exercise, education, nutrition advice, and counseling.
If you or a loved one have COPD or experience symptoms related to COPD, speak with your primary care physician for more information. To browse respiratory aids that can help build lung strength and provide supplementary oxygen for COPD, visit our Respiratory section at Medical Supply Depot.

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