So, What IS COPD Anyway?

So, What IS COPD Anyway?

I thought it would be neat to take a step back and review the term COPD. We know it means Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. But, what does this mean?

What is COPD anyway?

Here’s what to know.

For starters, we know it’s chronic. This means that it’s always there. Many people live with chronic diseases. Asthma is another one; so is arthritis. We learn to cope with them. We learn to live despite limitations caused by our respective diseases. That’s just what we do.

We also know it’s usually preventable. It’s caused by chronic exposure to some noxious substance. The most common cause is chemicals in cigarette smoke. It’s caused by day after day after day after day exposure to these chemicals. But, cigarette smoking is not the only cause. It may be caused by chronic exposure to chemicals, gases, or irritants in the air at your work. So, not smoking, or having a different job, might have prevented your COPD.

It causes obstructed airways. This means your airways become obstructed or narrow. This can be caused by airway inflammation and mucus. This is what happens with chronic bronchitis. It can also be caused by the destruction of lung tissue. This is what happens with emphysema. In either case, air can get into your lungs easily. But, this air gets trapped inside and has trouble getting back out.

A key term is airflow limitation.  The obstruction acts as resistance to the flow of exhaled air, making it hard to get air out. A fancy term for this is airflow limitation. It causes a prolonged expiratory phase. This can make you feel short of breath. Airflow limitation that is persistent (always there to some extent) is a key characteristic of COPD.

It varies from person to person. The two main diseases associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Some have more of one than the other. For instance, I have taken care of many people who seem to just have emphysema. I have taken care of people who seem to just have bronchitis. But, most researchers now think that most people with COPD have some degree of both. Plus, there are different stages of COPD, from 1-4. So, some have it mild while others might have it more severe. Everybody is different.

It’s a progressive disease. This kind of goes along with aging. You progression age over time. So, some people develop COPD naturally. For instance, one condition is called senile COPD. It’s where our lung gradually breaks down with age. This pretty much happens to all of us if we live long enough. When you have COPD, this effect may become enhanced. The good news is that this progression can be slowed with treatment, sometimes significantly.

There are good treatments for it. The best way to slow the progression of COPD is to stop smoking if you smoke. It means taking precautions at your work, such as wearing masks when exposed to fumes. You will need to get a proper diagnosis. Then, you will need to work with your doctor to find the best treatment options. There are many treatment options. Finding out which one works best for you is often a matter of trial and error.

What is our conclusion? COPD is now a very common disease. I see it nearly every day I work as a respiratory therapist. I work with people as they learn to cope with it. I have seen advancements in medicine that help people live longer and better with it.

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