Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a life threatening inflammatory lung disease affecting millions of people in India. The progressive disease obstructs the air flow in the lungs, making it difficult for people to breathe normally. The disease destroys the air sacs in the lungs responsible for extracting oxygen from air and eliminating waste. Chronic bronchitis and Emphysema are the two leading causes contributing to COPD cases. As per a research done by University of Washington’s, in the year 2018, around one million people died of COPD in India in the year 2017, making it second leading cause of death in the country.
Causes of COPD
- Long term exposure of lungs to air toxins
- Frequent smoking
- Deficiency of protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin can also cause COPD
- Indoor pollution like from cooking fire, mosquito coils and poor ventilation
- Occupational exposure like working in a coalmine or asbestos factory
Symptoms of COPD
The symptoms of COPD take time to show up until it becomes significant or have started damaging the lungs. The symptoms worsen over the time if timely treatment and care is not taken. The symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath/ difficulty breathing
- Tightness of chest
- Chronic Cough
- Respiratory infections
- Fatigue and weight loss
- Swelling of feet, ankle and legs
- Feeling tired and having trouble in breathing while doing physical activity
Diagnosing COPD from a single test is tough. Basis the symptoms you have the doctor may recommend a non-invasive test called spirometry. He may also advise certain imaging tests like CT scan and X-ray to have a detailed look of the lungs or an arterial blood gas test to measure the levels of oxygen, Carbon dioxide in your body.
Combination of improved lifestyle and medicines along with early diagnose can help treat COPD effectively.
Depending on your medical history and severity the doctor may prescribe you Bronchodilators (medicine taken through inhaler or nebulizer) to help your muscles of the airways relax. The medication widens the airways so that you can breathe easily. Further to reduce the inflammation and infection, the doctor may also advise glucocorticosteroids, antibiotics and antivirals.
Check with your doctor regarding getting pneumococcal vaccine or flu shots to reduce the risk of respiratory infections.
In case of lower oxygen level in blood, oxygen therapy can be provided. In severe cases ( like chronic emphysema) or when medicines fail surgery is the only option left in which large abnormal air spaces are removed from the lungs. Depending on case to case, lung transplant is also an option.
Along with all the above mentioned treatment and therapy, improving the lifestyle is equally important. Smokers should quit smoking, even passive smoking is dangerous. Work on your diet, get the right nutrition. Seek guidance from doctors for exercising.
Given the slow progression of COPD disease, it can be prevented if the underlying cause of the disease is detected. Most of the case of COPD reported in India is either due to air toxins or due to smoking. Sharing some preventive measures which can help prevent the burden of this menace.
- Quit smoking. Seek medical counselor help on how to quit smoking.
- Wear mask while stepping out. Wear protective clothes and follow the guidelines in case you are at risk of getting occupational exposure to certain pollutants.
- Get the yearly flu shot or vaccination to lower the risk of getting respiratory infection.