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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Interim HealthCare Blogs
Posted: 2/2/2016 10:40 AM by Interim HealthCare
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 12 million Americans are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that causes breathing difficulties and can turn fatal. Another 12 million people may have COPD but don't even know it.
 
Why are Americans so underdiagnosed? One reason is that many mistakenly think COPD is a disease of old age and don't get tested for it. It is estimated that as many as 70 percent of those who are undiagnosed are likely under the age of 65.
 
Early detection of COPD can slow the progression of the disease, so be aware of these warning signs and see your doctor right away if you spot them:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Mucus (sputum) production
  • Wheezing and chest tightness.
COPD is a condition that makes it hard to breathe, and worsens over time.
 
Cigarette smoke is the leading cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants—such as air pollution or chemical fumes—may also contribute to COPD.
 
When you take a breath air travels down your windpipe into airways. The airways branch into smaller, thinner tubes that end in bunches of tiny air sacs. When you have COPD, your lung function is reduced. COPD reduces the air flowing in and out of the airways because of one or more of the following:
  • Airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality (the ability to return to normal size after stretching).
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
  • The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed.
  • The airways make more mucus than usual, which can clog them.
Over time, most people living with COPD develop many of the signs and symptoms listed above.
 
COPD includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. Either may reduce lung function.
 
Chronic Bronchitis is increased cough and mucus production caused by inflammation of the airways. Bronchitis is considered chronic (or long-term) if a person coughs and produces excess mucus most days for several months during two years in a row.
 
Emphysema is damage to the air sacs and/or the smallest airways in the lungs.
 
How do flare-ups affect your breathing?
 
As a person with COPD, there may be times when you experience a “flare-up” or worsening of your COPD symptoms, like shortness of breath, coughing, mucus (sputum) production, and wheezing and chest tightness. Your doctor may refer to flare-ups as exacerbations. COPD flare-ups occur when symptoms become worse over several days. Typically, oral steroids (like prednisone), antibiotics, and/or hospitalization may be needed to help your breathing.
 
COPD flare-ups are often triggered by infection with bacteria or viruses. They can also be caused by pollutants or unknown factors. It’s important that you understand and recognize the signs and symptoms of a flare-up and talk to your doctor.
 
Examples of flare-up symptoms you may experience:
  • A change in the amount of mucus—either bringing up more or less than usual
  • A change in the color of your mucus from clear to deep yellow, green, brown, or red
  • Increasing shortness of breath
  • More coughing or a change in your cough
COPD is manageable with appropriate treatment. New medications can help relieve symptoms and maintain or improve lung function. If you have trouble breathing, or any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor right away.

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