A woman holding up an oversized sweater with a pair of lungs stitched onto it

COPD Is Not a “One Size Fits All” Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for the group of lung diseases that include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and bronchiectasis. What makes COPD different from asthma is that with COPD the damage in the lungs cannot be completely reversed. While all people experience breathing difficulty, not all COPD symptoms are the same for everyone with a COPD diagnosis.

Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or bronchiectasis?

When someone tells me they have COPD, I always like to ask what type they have and what stage they are in if they have been given this information from their doctor. Chronic Bronchitis is bronchitis that lasts for three months or more. The wet, congested productive cough becomes more chronic. Emphysema occurs when the smallest air sacs in the lungs become damaged and stretched out so to speak and no longer work as effectively to exchange oxygen into the bloodstream. Bronchiectasis is the condition where the bronchial tubes are widened and damaged permanently. As a result, mucus builds up in the lungs leading to frequent infections.

Staging COPD

COPD is staged using the GOLD staging system. Your doctor will give you your stage based on several factors including symptoms, hospital admissions and emergency room visits, lung function testing, and how quickly your symptoms have gotten worse. Your doctor will come up with a treatment plan after reviewing all of the above criteria. Some people will progress into higher/more severe stages of COPD than others. The stages are as follows- 1 (mild), 2 (moderate), 3 (severe), and 4 (very severe).

Symptoms

No two people with COPD will have exactly the same symptoms. What sends one person breathing into a flare-up might not bother another as much. Some of the most common COPD symptoms are wheezing, productive cough, shortness of breath, rib/lung pain, bloating, frequent lung infections, low oxygen levels, and extremity swelling just to name a few.

The smoking link

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. This is a known fact. But not everyone who is diagnosed with COPD has smoked or been exposed to second hand (or third hand) smoke.

Treatment

The treatment for COPD is dependent on the stage and your symptoms. Finding the right combination of medication can take time and can change over time depending on what your needs are to keep breathing under control. Everyone with COPD’s treatment plan will look a bit different. What inhaler that may work great for you might not be effective for someone else. As COPD progresses, the use of supplemental oxygen might be needed. Some people may only need it at night or with exertion, while others need it 24/7. Pulmonary rehab can also be extremely helpful to learn breathing techniques and exercises that are beneficial.

Different experiences

As you can see, there are many many different factors when it comes to COPD. It’s quite a complex disease and no two experiences are the same. It is important to know and understand all about your specific type of COPD and its treatment. It is also a good idea to learn a bit about the other types of COPD and different symptoms as well because as COPD progresses you will know what other symptoms you may experience.

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