Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease


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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage in the lungs and breathing problems. The commonest causes of this are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD can often be confused with asthma due to similar symptoms.

The symptoms of COPD develop gradually overtime. Initially it is asymptomatic, and symptoms only appear when there has been extensive lung damage. The symptoms of COPD may include Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities, Wheezing and Chest tightness. There usually is a chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish. These patients tend to have frequent respiratory infections. They may have lack of energy and unintended weight loss (in later stages).

The biggest risk factor from developing COPD is cigarette smoking. Other risk factors includes exposure to dust and chemicals, especially in those working in mines. Exposure to fumes, burning fuels and secondary smoking is also a risk factor. Smoke from burning wood and other biomass fuels is also a significant risk factor for developing COPD. In younger people it is usually genetic. People who have had chronic lung infections such as tuberculosis are also prone to developing COPD.

The diagnosis of this disease is often made based on the presence of risk factors, clinical symptoms and special investigations. Some of the tests done include a chest Xray to look for features of hyperinflation due to airway obstruction. The confirmatory test is what we call spirometry, which is test done to measure the functioning of the lungs and is able to detect if there is some obstruction.

The treatment of this condition involves stopping smoking. That’s the most important aspect in the management and it leads to delay in progression of the disease. The patient must also avoid exposure to other pollutants and secondary smoke. Patients must also undergo pulmonary rehabilitation, which is an individualised program that teaches patients how to breath and how to conserve energy.

It is also important to be vaccinated for influenza and pneumococcal vaccine. This is to prevent recurrent chest infections that may lead to further damage of the lungs. Last but not least is to take medications in the form of inhalers. This inhalers help to treat inflammation in the airways as well as to relieve obstruction. Some of these medications may be similar to those used to treat asthma hence the confusion. Some patients may not improve on medications and often require supplemental oxygen.

It is important to diagnose this condition early and be on appropriate therapy. This condition can be debilitating. If left untreated this condition can lead to heart failure amongst other complications. Patients with this condition are also prone to depression.


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