Understanding COPD

Understanding COPD is crucial for both the patient with the diagnosis and the personnel giving home care to the patient.   COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is the most common lung disease.  There are two different forms of COPD:  Chronic Bronchitis (long term cough with mucus) and Emphysema (irreversible damage to COPDthe lungs over time).  The majority of patients that suffer from COPD have a combination of both forms.  Both forms carry similar symptoms with the overall complication being a struggle to breathe with or without tightness of the chest.

* Wheezing (a hoarse whistling sound/raspy sound coming from chest/lung area)

* Fatigue (extreme tiredness to the point of disturbing daily routines)

* Abnormal amount of multiple respiratory infections over a gradual time period (common cold, Influenza, strep throat, sinus infections)

* Dyspnea (shortness of breath with little or no physical activity)

* Chronic cough (a cough that persists)

* Weight loss (unexplained)

Known causes of COPD are: long term smoking, (number one contributor) long term exposure to gases, fumes, environmental toxins, and frequent cooking without proper ventilation.   Recognizing the symptoms of COPD is the first step in treating the disease.  There is no cure for COPD and there is no medical means of reversing lung damage, however; if the dangerous lung disease is diagnosed soon enough, there is hope of preventing further damage.

Steps for a Diagnoses

There are steps to take if you think you or those you care for are suffering from a form a COPD.  The first step is to make an appointment with your regular physician because he/she knows your medical history.  The physician will generally listen to you lungs with a stethoscope to check for shortness of breath or wheezing.  However, some with COPD do not have wheezing symptoms.  Further testing includes:

* Spirometry- a lung function test involving strong exhalation into a machine that measures lung capacity.

* Arterial Blood Gas- a blood test where a syringe will be inserted into an artery and drawing a small amount of blood used to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body.

* Chest x-ray- a painless, noninvasive test that creates pictures of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

Treatment

Once again, there is no cure for COPD.  However, in order for aggressive treatment to effective, if the patient smokes, smoking must be eliminated immediately.  COPD symptoms will NOT improve as long as the patient still smokes.  There are medications used to treat COPD symptoms.

* Inhalers (bronchodilators) that help to open airways.  Albuterol, Foradil, and Atrovent are the most common.

* Oral Steroids to reduce lung inflammation, such as Prednisone.

* Anti-inflammatory medications that reduce swelling, such as Singulair.

* Nebulizer treatment (for extreme attacks) delivers breathing medications through a mist that is inhaled.

* BiPAP (a mask-like device used mainly for sleeping, which releases oxygen into the body.

* Portable oxygen (a small tank of air that can be taken anywhere the patient is going).

* During extreme flare-ups, antibiotics may be administered if any infection is found to be making the symptoms worse.

Limited exercising has been known to help with symptoms, such as light walking.  Walking helps the lungs to strengthen over time.  Be sure to ask the physician or therapist what a safe walking distance for you would be.  Gradually, over time, increase your walking distance.  While walking, it is important to use pursed lip breathing while exhaling in order to completely empty your lungs before taking the next breath.

Things to do at home to help your symptoms are not allowing any smoking in your home, do not walk out into frigid air because it is a shock to the lungs and can cause an attack, reduce air pollution by not using wood stoves, fireplaces, air refreshers, scented candles, or the overuse of cleaning products.

Understanding COPD is the first step in preventing or treating symptoms.  If COPD symptoms go untreated, the patient is at risk for Pneumonia, severe weight loss/malnutrition, thinning of bones, and multiple hospital stays.  COPD is a very serious illness, but there is hope.  Contact your physician, and follow physician’s orders.  Control your COPD.  Do not let it control you.

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