Posts Tagged ‘COPD’

Here’s to Having Healthy Lungs

October 5th, 2021

Lung disease kills 4 million people every year. It kills more people than any other disease worldwide. Lung disease is a broad term that encompasses multiple conditions that prevent your lungs from working properly. October is Healthy Lung Month. Let’s use this time to learn more about our lungs and some of the disorders that threaten their health.

Your lungs are a pair of air-filled organs located in your chest. Each lung is made up of smaller sections called lobes. Your right lung has three lobes and your left lung has two lobes. The lungs are part of your respiratory system, a group of organs and tissues responsible for bringing fresh air into your body and expelling waste gases, mainly carbon dioxide, out of your body.

There are many conditions that can affect your lungs, but they are typically divided into three main categories: airway diseases, lung tissue diseases and lung circulation diseases. Each group of diseases impacts the lungs in a different way.

Airway diseases primarily affect the tubes, or airways, that carry oxygen and waste gases into and out of the lungs. Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, are examples of airway diseases of the lungs.

With asthma, your airways become inflamed and swell, and often produce excess mucus, making it difficult to breath. The most common conditions associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to and from the air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs. Emphysema involves the destruction of the alveoli. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD.

Lung tissue diseases affect the structure of the lung tissue. With these diseases, the lungs are unable to fully expand as you breathe due to inflammation and scarring. This makes it difficult for your lungs to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis are examples of lung tissue diseases.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition in which the lung tissue becomes scarred, thickened and stiff. The scar tissue makes it difficult for the lungs to open up and take in air. With sarcoidosis, your immune system cells clump together and form granulomas, or small areas of inflammation. This can occur in any organ of your body, but it most commonly affects the lungs.

Lung circulation diseases impact the blood vessels in the lungs. They most often involve clotting, scarring or inflammation of the blood vessels. Pulmonary hypertension is a common lung circulation disease. Pulmonary hypertension develops when the pressure in the arteries leading from the heart to the lungs increases. If the pressure becomes too high, the arteries in the lungs can become narrow, restricting blood flow to the lungs.

Lung cancer is another common disease that affects the airways and tissues of the lungs.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in the US. It makes up almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths. It is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the US, excluding skin cancer. In men, prostate cancer is more common, and in women, breast cancer is more common. People who smoke are at the highest risk for developing lung cancer.

Each lung disease has its own set of signs and symptoms, but there are some symptoms that are common to several disorders. These include: shortness of breath with activity; chronic cough; chest tightness; wheezing; rapid, shallow breathing; hoarseness; recurring respiratory infections and fatigue. In rare cases, lung cancer can grow into the nearby blood vessels and cause severe bleeding.

To determine if you have a lung disease, your doctor will perform a physical exam during which he or she will listen to your lungs and breathing. The doctor will review your personal and family history, including your smoking status, risk factors and the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor may use certain tests and procedures to help in making the diagnosis.

Tests and procedures your doctor may employ include: chest x-ray, CT scan, pulmonary functions tests, pulse oximetry, arterial blood gas, bronchoscopy and lung cancer screening.

Treatment depends on the type of lung disease, but it may include medications such as inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce swelling and inflammation of lung tissue, and oral or intravenous medications. Treatment for lung cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy.

There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk for lung disease and keep your lungs healthy:

  • Don’t smoke – Smoking cause chronic inflammation in the lungs, destroys lung tissue and may trigger changes that develop into lung cancer.
  • Avoid exposure to indoor pollutants – Secondhand smoke, chemicals in the home and workplace and radon can cause or worsen lung disease.
  • Minimize exposure to outdoor pollutants – Avoid being outdoors for long periods when pollution is high and air quality is poor.
  • Prevent infection – Wash your hands often and avoid crowds during cold and flue season. Get vaccinated against the flu and ask your doctor if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.
  • Exercise – Regular physical activity can help keep your lungs – and heart – healthy.

COPD Uncovered

November 20th, 2018

Someone I know and love was a smoker for most of her life. A few years ago, after a very difficult struggle, she finally quit. Unfortunately, the years of smoking had already done some damage to her lungs, and now she’s suffering from COPD. The weirdest part is she doesn’t seem to understand how she got the disorder. She doesn’t get the connection.

She should have. In the United States, the single biggest cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. In fact, about 90 percent of those who have the disorder are smokers or former smokers. Among people who smoke, 20 percent to 30 percent of them develop COPD. Smoking’s not the only cause, just the most common.

Other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to lung irritants including air pollution and breathing in chemical fumes, dust or toxic substances at home or at work. In rare cases, COPD can be caused by a genetic mutation. Some people have a defect causing a deficiency in the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin, which protects the lungs from damage.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, actually refers to a group of progressive lung diseases that, over time, make it harder for you to breathe and perform your activities. The two most common diseases and those usually associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Most people who have COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, but the severity of each condition varies from person to person. Thus, the general term COPD is more accurate.

In its early stages, you may not notice the symptoms of COPD or may chalk up the changes to “getting older.” But catching COPD early is imperative to effective treatment and management, so contact your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent coughing, especially with a lot of mucus
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing
  • Difficulty breathing or increasing shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Fatigue
  • Bluish fingernails or lips

To diagnose COPD, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, take your complete health and family history, perform a physical examination and review test results. The test most commonly used to diagnose COPD is spirometry, a simple test of how well your lungs work.

National Heart, Blood and lun institute

The image shows how spirometry is done. The patient takes a deep breath and blows as hard as possible into a tube connected to a spirometer. The spirometer measures the amount of air breathed out. It also measures how fast the air was blown out.

During a spirometry test, you blow air into a mouthpiece that is attached to a small machine. This machine then measures the amount of air you blow out as well as how fast you blow it. This test can find COPD in its earliest stages and can be used to determine how severe it is. Your doctor will likely use the spirometry results to guide his or her treatment planning.

Your doctor may also order other tests including a chest x-ray or chest CT or to more closely examine your lungs. These tests can also help rule out other disorders as the cause of your symptoms. Through a blood sample, an arterial blood gas test can show how well your lungs are moving oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide from it.

Because every person with COPD has different degrees of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, treatment is tailored to the patient’s unique situation. Treatment is designed to ease symptoms, prevent complications and slow disease progression. It may include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, surgery, and lifestyle changes.

Medications called bronchodilators to help relax the muscles of the airway, which opens the airway so you can breathe easier. Sometimes, glucocorticosteroids, which help reduce inflammation, are added. These medications are generally inhaled through an inhaler or nebulizer. Your doctor may also recommend you get yearly flu and pneumonia shots to reduce your risk of getting those infections, which can harm your lungs.

If your oxygen level gets low, you may be prescribed oxygen therapy to improve that and help you breathe better. With this, you inhale fresh oxygen through prongs in your nose or a mask. Pulmonary rehabilitation may include an exercise program, disease management training, nutrition advice, and counseling. The goal is to help you stay active and able to perform your daily activities.

In severe cases of COPD, surgery may be needed when other treatments have failed. Surgery may be done to remove large air sacs from the lungs or to remove damaged lung tissue. As a final resort, lung transplantation may become necessary. During a transplant, your diseased lungs are removed and replaced with healthy lungs from a donor.

Lifestyle changes can help to both manage the symptoms of COPD you already have and prevent progression of the disease. The first thing you need to do is quit smoking if you do. There are tons of resources on the internet and in your community to help you do this. Also, take steps to protect yourself from exposure to secondhand smoke and chemical fumes.

There’s no specific diet recommended for people with COPD, but a healthy diet is important for maintaining overall health and strength. For your meals, chose a variety of nutritious vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and dairy. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids to help keep mucus on the thin side.

Ask your doctor about how much activity you should get and for suggestions for exercise that will be good for you. Maintain a healthy weight because being overweight makes your heart and lungs work harder.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that 12 million American adults currently have COPD and another 12 million are undiagnosed or are developing the disease. The World Health Organization chimes in with its estimate that 210 million people worldwide have COPD. They go further to say they expect total deaths to increase more than 30 percent in the next ten years.  COPD is already the third leading cause of death in the US.

COPD has no known cure, but treatments and lifestyle changes can help you manage the disease, slow its progression, and most importantly, feel better and remain more active. If you notice any of the symptoms of COPD, don’t wait. See your doctor and get treatment started as soon as possible.

Contemplating COPD

November 6th, 2017

How much do you know about COPD? For one thing, it’s a killer. In fact, it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 16 million Americans have COPD, but many more have it and haven’t be diagnosed, which pushes the estimate closer to 30 million. That’s because 50 percent of people who have it don’t know they do.Photo courtesy of istock photo

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is actually an umbrella term for a group of progressive lung diseases that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and non-reversible asthma.

With emphysema, the walls between the air sacs in the lungs are damaged, affecting the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange and the amount of oxygen that gets into the bloodstream. Chronic bronchitis is the constant irritation and inflammation of the lining of the airways. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways.

COPD symptoms most often appear in people who are 40 and older. There are, however, certain cases in which it develops in younger people. An example is the genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. AAT is a protein, and low levels of it can lead to COPD, especially if you are exposed to lung irritants such as cigarette smoke or chemical fumes.

Generally, COPD is not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage. That’s mostly because people don’t recognize the early warning signs, or they attribute the coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties they feel to a normal part of aging. Also, COPD can be developing for years without noticeable symptoms.

Other symptoms you may recognize include the inability to perform basic activities due to shortness of breath, the presence of a lot of mucus when coughing, a wheezing or whistling sound when breathing and tightness in the chest. There are additional, more serious COPD symptoms such as swelling in the ankles, feet or legs; weight loss; and lower muscle endurance.

If you are experiencing a fast heartbeat, decreased mental alertness, trouble catching your breath when talking, or discoloration of the lips or fingernails, you need immediate medical attention.

Long-term exposure to lung irritants is the cause of most cases of COPD, about 75 percent of them, and inhaled cigarette smoke is the most common culprit. Secondhand smoke also contributes to the development of COPD, as do air pollution, chemical fumes and dusts, both from the environment and from the workplace.

COPD is most common in current and former smokers. It’s estimated that smoking is responsible for nine out ten COPD-related deaths. Smoking is harmful to the whole body, but especially the lungs by causing inflammation and destroying the lungs’ air sacs.

This damage in the lungs is irreversible, but steps can be taken to manage and slow the progression of COPD. Treatment often starts by making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and avoiding other lung irritants, following a healthy diet and finding a physical activity that strengthens the muscles that help you breathe.

Your doctor may also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation. This is a guided program that includes exercise, disease management training, and nutritional and psychological counseling. The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to help you stay active and able to perform your daily activities.

If you have a low level of oxygen in your blood, you may be placed on oxygen therapy. With this treatment, supplemental oxygen is delivered through the nose. Another way to improve breathing is by using bronchodilators, with or without inhaled corticosteroids. Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your airway, which helps open them up and make breathing easier.

Staying healthy overall is important, too. Disorders such as pneumonia and flu can lead to serious problems for people with COPD. Follow your doctor’s recommendations about getting the flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine to help avoid these conditions and their complications. Stay healthy and breathe deeply!

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