Chronic Bronchitis Emphysema - COPD - Definition, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment
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COPD - Definition, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

What does COPD mean? COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It encompasses two types of disease processes namely chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Quite often, people who suffer from COPD show a combination of features of both disease processes. In lay person's term, COPD means persistent lung disease with features of airway narrowing. To be more specific, bronchitis means inflammation of the bronchi or the larger airways of the lungs whereas emphysema means destruction to the smaller airways and alveoli or airsacs of the lungs. Thus COPD is commonly used to describe chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both.


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 Is COPD a common condition? It is one of the commonest conditions that require hospital admission during period of flare-ups. According to one epidemiology study in the US, approximately eight million people have chronic bronchitis whereas 2 million people have emphysema. As we can see, chronic bronchitis is more common than emphysema.

What are the causes of COPD? Smoking. Smoking is the number 1 cause of COPD. More than 90 percent of COPDs are caused by smoking, cigarette or otherwise. About 30 percent of long term smokers will eventually show symptoms of COPD of varying degrees. Other causes include air pollution and inherited enzyme deficiency namely alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

How does smoking cause COPD? Smoking inadvertently damages the lining of the airways. As with any other part of the body in response to injury, inflammation occurs. Inflammation stimulates the damaged lining to secrete mucus in an abnormal amount and also causes the airway to constrict (narrow).

What are the symptoms of COPD? The two main symptoms are cough and breathlessness. COPD sufferers commonly complain about breathlessness and cough that develop gradually over a long period of time. The cough that COPD sufferer gets are usually productive which means they commonly cough up phlegm. The cough usually comes and goes initially but tends to become persistent as time passes. Breathlessness is usually intermittent and only occurs with exertion in the beginning, however if you continue to smoke, the breathlessness persists even when you are at rest, this can be quite distressing! Other symptoms are chronic sputum production, where you constantly cough up phlegm all day and recurrent chest infection. People with COPD are more prone to chest infection for obvious reasons, as the lining in the lung looses its normal defense mechanism against intruding bugs.

 
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COPD sounds like asthma, are they any different? Yes. Both COPD and asthma cause similar symptoms, however, they are different in certain ways. COPD causes permanent damage to the airways. The obstruction is 'fixed', hence it is irreversible in general terms. However, airway narrowing in asthma is intermittent and reverses quite easily with medication. Having said that, both COPD and asthma is common, people who suffer COPD can have an asthmatic component and vice versa.

What tests are needed to diagnose COPD? A test called spirometry is often performed to diagnose COPD. Bronchodilators (drugs that cause the airway to dilate) are usually added to confirm the diagnosis. If the test result does not show improvement with bronchodilators, then COPD is very likely.

What are the treatments of COPD? First of all. Stop smoking. This cannot be stressed enough. Smoking cessation is the first thing you have to do if you want to get better. As the underlying mechanism of COPD is irreversible, medications are used with an aim to slow down it's progress. Drugs that are commonly used to treat COPD include short-acting bronchodilator inhalers (i.e. salbutamol), long-acting bronchodilator inhalers (i.e. tiotropium), steroid inhalers and tablets are all available drugs for treatment of COPD. Again, no treatment is more important that stop smoking. Lung transplant is the last option and should be reserved for people with severe COPD.



Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Medicine

 
 
     
 
 





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