COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. COPD is a condition that is characterized by difficulty in breathing. This is a progressive disorder which intensifies with time. COPD affects around 2-3% of the global population and with the increase in pollution, the count keeps increasing.
Researchers believe 90% of the cases of COPD are due to smoking tobacco and inhaling chemical fumes. These irritants tend to cause inflammation in the airways and lungs resulting in the breakdown of lung tissue. The symptoms can be controlled but there is no known cure for this disorder. It is still not clear whether COPD is hereditary or not, but some researches prove that a genetic condition where there is a deficiency of Alpha-1-antitrypsin makes few people prone to COPD at an early age.
COPD presents a number of symptoms that are:
Cough with phlegm production as a result of irritants entering into airways. The cough doesn’t seem to go away and persists.
Patients suffer from wheezing.
Even with a little amount of exertion, the patient feels tired and there will be shortness of breath.
The sputum tends to always remain and the patient needs to spit it out in order to clear the throat and have clear breathing.
Fingernails turn bluish because of less supply of oxygen to the lungs.
Weight loss at later stages.
Patients are more susceptible to flu, coughs, and fever.
Later stages patients present with swollen ankles and feet.
COPD is a chronic lung disorder whose main symptom is limited air supply to the lungs causing difficulty in breathing because of obstruction. The patient is unable to breathe out completely signalling towards air entrapment in the lungs. The limitation in airflow is because of Emphysema (damage of alveoli resulting in shortness of breath).
Though COPD is caused mainly due to the inhalation of irritants but any bacterial infection also tends to aggravate the inflammatory condition. There are other factors as well that can cause lung damage, one amongst them being the oxidative stress caused due to inhalation of tobacco smoke by releasing high concentrations of free radicals into the already inflamed cells.
Emphysema is caused due to the loss of activity of the connective tissue of the lungs, thus resulting in poor airflow, poor absorption, and damage to the lungs. In later stages, when the patient notices weight loss due to the general muscle loss, this happens because there will be inflammatory mediators released into the blood by the lungs. The airways narrow due to the scarring and inflammation. This obstructs the lungs and the lungs are unable to breathe out completely.
The maximum compression in airways occurs when the breathing is out. Hence there would be a reduction of airflow. Since complete exhalation is not possible there will be air left in the lung from the previous breath inhaled which in turn increases the total volume of air in the lungs. This is called Hyperinflation.
COPD Diagnosis and Tests:
The physician undertakes the past history of the patient who complains of shortness of breath whether the patients used to smoke or frequently exposed to any sort of chemical fumes or smoke in the past.
Physical examination is conducted. The most common test to assess COPD is spirometry. In this test, the patient is asked to blow air into a tube that is connected to a machine that can measure how much air the lungs can sustain and how fast the air can be blown out.
Some heart problems also show similar symptoms like COPD. To rule out other lung problems and differentiate between COPD and heart problems, the physician will conduct a few more tests like chest X-Ray, CT scan, MRI. If the condition is worse, the patient is also subjected to a few blood tests to rule out anaemia and other problems that can cause shortness of breath. Laboratory tests to check Alpha-1-Antitrypsin (ATT) deficiency is also done.
The first line of treatment includes quitting smoking and avoiding places where the patient can be exposed to poisonous fumes and smoke. Though the condition itself is not completely curable but with certain precautions, lifestyle modification, avoiding the aggravating factors along with proper treatment, the symptoms can be brought under control. Bronchodilators, antibiotics, oxygen therapy and corticosteroids are prescribed based on the condition of the patient.
1. What are the Stages of COPD?
Ans: There are 4 stages in which COPD progresses into, they are:
Stage 1- mild COPD, where lung function reduces but it remains unnoticed.
Stage 2- moderate COPD, shortness of breath on exertion.
Stage 3- severe COPD, shortness of breath becomes worse with few other signs of COPD.
stage 4- very severe COPD, where the symptoms become irreversible.
2. What causes COPD?
Ans: Damage to the lungs causes COPD. This damage can be caused by frequent exposure to tobacco smoking or chemical and poisonous fumes around, deficiency of Alpha-1-Antitrypsin also is said to be a responsible factor of COPD.