Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, also known as COPD, is progressive and incurable. A leading cause of death around the world, it includes several lung diseases that obstruct airflow and cause breathing difficulties. Chronic asthmatic bronchitis and emphysema are the two primary disorders of this disease; many patients have both conditions.
In chronic asthmatic bronchitis, narrowing and inflammation of the airways to the lungs cause wheezing and coughing. Increased mucus production obstructs the airways. Emphysema damages the air sacs in the lungs by destroying their walls, decreasing the surface area needed to provide oxygen. The air sac walls become weak and inflexible, collapsing and trapping air. The chest muscles strain to exhale, causing shortness of breath.
The primary cause of COPD is long-term cigarette smoking, although dust, air pollution, and chemical fumes can be responsible. The disease develops slowly; symptoms generally do not appear in individuals under 40 years old.
Patients have increased respiratory infections such as colds, flu and pneumonia. These cause breathing difficulties and lung tissue damage. High blood pressure, heart problems, and depression are other consequences.
Lung damage cannot be repaired, but there are treatments to control the symptoms and reduce complications. The best remedy is to stop smoking. This will not cure COPD, but it will keep it from getting worse.
Medications, therapies and home care can help. Bronchodilator inhalers relax the airway muscles and reduce coughing and breathing difficulties. Antibiotics can heal bacterial respiratory infections. Inhaled corticosteroids reduce inflammation of the airways to improve breathing. However, prolonged use of steroids weakens bones and increases the risk of cataracts, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen for the blood. It is available in portable units and larger systems for home use. Some individuals use oxygen only while sleeping or being active; others use it continually. Pulmonary rehabilitation includes exercise, education, counseling, and nutrition advice. A variety of health care professionals such as respiratory therapists, physical therapists, dietitians, and exercise specialists design each program to meet the needs of the individual.
In cases of severe emphysema, surgical removal of damaged lung tissue is possible. A lung transplant may also be an option. Home care includes proper breathing, controlled coughing, exercising, eating healthy foods, avoiding smoke, getting vaccinations for flu and pneumonia, and avoiding crowds and cold air.
Even though there is no cure for COPD, proper medication and therapy can control its symptoms.