Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is permanent, incurable airway obstruction. Sufferers suffer from severe coughing attacks, shortness of breath and expectoration. The biggest risk factor is smoking. How COPD can be prevented and treated.
Chronic inflammatory lung disease (COPD) is one of the most common diseases worldwide. In Germany, it is estimated that up to twelve per cent of adults – especially men – are affected by over 40 years. COPD is a persistent inflammation of the respiratory tract that leads to permanent damage. The bronchi and their fine ramifications, the bronchioles, narrow and lung function deteriorates.
What is COPD?
Existing damage in the respiratory tract can not be reversed. The dysfunction of the lung progresses in the course of the disease on and on. Could not be cured by COPD. Physicians distinguish two main forms of COPD:
- COPD with chronic bronchitis (permanent inflammation of the bronchi)
- COPD with pulmonary emphysema (destruction of lung tissue)
The transitions between the two COPD forms are fluid. Often both occur together.
COPD Causes: Bronchitis becomes COPD
The onset of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is often chronic bronchitis, in which sufferers suffer from a persistent cough, increased mucus formation and sputum. If this symptom is accompanied by a narrowing of the lower respiratory tract, physicians speak of COPD. Experts suspect that the immune cells of COPD patients react particularly strongly to inhaled pollutants and increasingly form inflammatory messengers.
Smoking is the biggest COPD risk factor
Smoking is considered the biggest risk factor for COPD. The pollutants contained in cigarette smoke trigger inflammation in the airways – even in healthy people. Up to 90 per cent of all COPD sufferers are smokers.
Other influencing factors that favour the development of lung disease:
- Hereditary predisposition
- premature birth
- Infections of the respiratory tract in childhood
- Contact with occupational pollutants
- air pollutants
COPD course: This is how the lung suffers
The persistent inflammation of the airways disturbs the defence and repair mechanisms of the lung. This has consequences:
- The concomitant destruction of the tissue leads to scarring, which increasingly stiffens the tissue.
- The mucous membrane swells and the glands produce more mucus.
- The lung loses the ability to clean because the transport hairs (cilia, cilia) are destroyed.
- The alveoli, in which the gas exchange takes place, take damage.
COPD signs: What are the symptoms of COPD?
The increasing narrowing in the airways and the continuous loss of function of the lungs are mainly due to the AHA symptoms. The three most common COPD symptoms are:
- A temnot
- H ut
- A loss
If the shortness of breath at the beginning of COPD is associated with physical exertion, such as climbing stairs, those who are affected at an advanced stage are short of breath even at rest and have the feeling that they are not getting enough air.
The first sign of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is daily cough . Especially in the morning sufferers have to fight with the coughing. Often the cough is mistakenly rated as a normal “smoker’s cough”. In the further course, the incidence of coughing and the intensity of cough increase more and more.
At some point, ejection accompanies the coughing attacks. Also clearly audible breath sounds when exhaling (rattling, whistling, hum) and tightness in the chest are among the symptoms of advanced COPD. In the long term, COPD also affects other organs, especially the heart. Heart failure and coronary heart disease are possible comorbidities of COPD.
COPD Diagnosis: How Does the Doctor Find COPD?
For the diagnosis of COPD, the symptoms are the first important clue. In addition to various other examinations, the pulmonary function test (spirometry) plays an important role in the final diagnosis. The pulmonary function test shows how severely the lung’s capacity is already limited and whether other respiratory diseases may be behind the symptoms.
Treating COPD: Smoking is the most important measure
Without treatment, the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease progresses. As lung disease is not curable, the focus of treatment is to slow its progression, increase the patients’ resilience, alleviate COPD symptoms and prevent comorbidities.
The first and most important treatment step is smoking cessation. According to the Lung Information Service at Helmholtz Zentrum München, people with COPD who continue to smoke lose around twice as much of their lung function each year as compared to those who stopped smoking. Exercise is also part of COPD therapy, as it strengthens the respiratory tract and trains the respiratory muscles. Respiratory training teaches proper breathing in respiratory distress. Nutritional advice can help to make life healthier and reduce obesity.
COPD Therapy: Which medications help with COPD?
In addition, there are several medications that are given as part of the COPD treatment. Which active substances and preparations best alleviate the symptoms depends on the patient’s individual symptoms:
- How far has lung disease progressed?
- What complaints does the person affect?
- How strong are the COPD symptoms?
- What is the general health of the person affected?
- Which comorbidities are present?
The basic therapy is a medication that expands the bronchial tubes to facilitate breathing. They are inhaled via so-called bronchodilators. In special training, affected people to learn how to handle the inhalation devices correctly. Tablets, drops and infusions are also used. Cortisone is an advanced component of COPD therapy because it has anti-inflammatory effects.
What is the life expectancy of COPD?
According to the German Society of Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine, life expectancy is reduced by an average of five to seven years with COPD. According to pulmonary experts, around 600 million people worldwide are affected by COPD. In the United States, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death. Europe is already in third place. It is expected that the disease will take third place among the most common fatal diseases worldwide by 2020.