COPD, an often preventable and treatable chronic disease

Persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing or pressure in the chest are some of the symptoms that people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD may not cause discomfort at first or may be mild, but as the disease progresses, symptoms get worse and worse.

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Despite advances to improve disease progression, kills more than three million people around the world each year, according to a study published in The Lancet in 2017.

What Causes COPD

People with COPD they have to work harder to breathe, which can cause shortness of breath, tiredness, etc. To fully understand what this disease is, it is important to first know how the lungs work. The air we breathe goes down the windpipe into a kind of tubes that lead to the lungs.

These tubes branch in the lungs into infinity of small and thin bronchioles, which end in a kind of grape clusters of small rounded air sacs, the alveoli, which are elastic. Small blood vessels, the capillaries, pass through the alveoli.

When the air reaches the alveoli, oxygen passes through their walls to the blood of the capillaries. When we inhale, the alveoli fill with air and inflate like a balloon; when we exhale, they deflate. In COPD, the amount of air that moves in and out of the airways is low because the alveoli and bronchi lose elasticity for many reasons:

  • Because the walls that separate the alveoli are destroyed and lose elasticity (emphysema).
  • Because the bronchi produce more mucus than in normal conditions and become clogged (chronic bronchitis).

In most cases, COPD develops for reasons such as:

  • The smoke of the tabacco: it is the most common cause of COPD. Up to 75% of people with the disease smoke or used to smoke, according to data from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This includes if you smoke, have smoked in the past, or have been passively exposed to tobacco smoke. Smoking causes irritation and scarring on the inner walls of the airways, increasing risk. This persistent inflammation over time leads to permanent changes in the lung.
  • Environmental exposure dust in certain jobs, chemicals, and indoor and outdoor air pollution.
  • Hereditary and genetic conditions: a rare genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT) can also cause COPD.

The spirometry It is a simple breathing test that measures the ability to inhale and detect if the airways are narrow. But, if in doubt, you can also have a chest X-ray, a chest scan, or check oxygen saturation levels.

Diagnosis is not usually made before the age of 50, especially in men, although the number of affected women is increasing because the rate of women smokers also rises.

Treatment to breathe better

Treatment for COPD generally involves relieving symptoms because damage to the lungs, in most cases, cannot be reversed. The most common is:

  • Give up smokingIf you smoke, the first and most effective treatment for COPD is to quit. Doing so prevents further damage to the lungs and reduces the chance of getting chest infections, coughing, and mucus buildup.
  • Get a flu shot: the vaccine protects you against this disease and reduces the possibility of an outbreak.
  • Take prescribed medicationAlthough medications do not cure COPD, they can improve symptoms and prevent flare-ups (exacerbations) that can lead to further loss of lung function. Included here are bronchodilators to widen the airways (they are, according to one study published in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, the mainstay of the pharmacological treatment of COPD); anti-inflammatories such as steroids to reduce inflammation of the airways; antibiotics to treat infections. With the exception of the latter, most COPD medications have to be taken every day, in most cases for a lifetime.
  • Supplemental oxygenation: In some people, COPD can also lower the oxygen level in the blood. Breathing should not be confused with low oxygen levels (people with COPD may have shortness of breath but a good oxygen level).
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation: Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are supervised exercises for people who have breathing problems.
  • Maintain an active and healthy lifeModerate exercise helps the blood circulate and the heart sends oxygen to the body, strengthens the respiratory muscles and, therefore, makes breathing easier Walking, cycling, or swimming are a good example of how to do aerobic exercise. A half hour is enough a few times a week, notes the American Lung Association.

With all these treatments, Does COPD go away? The term chronic in obstructive pulmonary disease means that symptoms may improve when a person stops smoking, takes medication regularly, or attends pulmonary rehabilitation.

But the damage to the lungs is there, it doesn't go away. Therefore, COPD is a condition for life. Although breath and fatigue do not disappear completely, you can learn to manage the disease and try to lead a life as normal as possible.

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