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CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE

Impact of COPD

November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) month; seems kind of odd, until you realize that the condition you may have never heard of is one of the nation’s most common and debilitating chronic health conditions. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, COPD affects over 16 million Americans and is the nation’s third leading cause of death (1). Although the numbers are ominous, risk can be greatly minimized through a healthy lifestyle and if found early, interventions are often successful in managing the disease long-term.

WHAT IS COPD?

COPD is an umbrella term, defining a group of progressive respiratory diseases that impair breathing. Because they are progressive, if not treated, the conditions will get worse over time. The direct cause of COPD is an inhibition of air flow in and out of the airways, the result of a combination of a few reasons:

  • The elasticity of airways or air sacs (alveoli) diminishes
  • The airway walls or those separating the alveoli become inflamed
  • Excess mucus clogs the airways

Most COPD is caused by emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In most cases of COPD, both conditions are present, but in varying degrees. The location of damage in the lungs delineates the two conditions. In emphysema the walls separating the airs sacs are damaged, resulting in a loss in air sac elasticity and even a decrease in the number of air sacs. With chronic bronchitis, it is the airways that are impacted; chronic inflammation causes them to thicken and the space becomes clogged with excess mucus.

Diagnosing COPD is a combination of current symptoms, personal and family medical history, and pulmonary function testing. While your doctor may request a chest x-ray or chest CT scan to get a physical look at your respiratory system, the primary test for COPD is spirometry. A spirometry exam is the simplest way to measure how fast and how much air you can exhale. Once diagnosed, a variety of medications and pulmonary rehabilitation techniques may be used to manage the condition long term. For more extreme cases, you may require supplemental oxygen when partaking in physical activity and there are surgical options to consider.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

As COPD is progressive, you may not notice the early signs, but over time they will become more noticeable. If you are regularly experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it is time to consult your Prime Meridian Healthcareprofessional:

LIPS AND FINGERNAILS TURNING BLUE/GRAY [DUE TO LOW BLOOD SERUM LEVELS OF OXYGEN]

INCREASING DIFFICULTY CATCHING YOUR BREATH OR TALKING

EXCESSIVE HEART RATE

MORE COMMON COLDS AND RESPIRATORY ILLNESS, AND INCREASING DIFFICULTY RECOVERING

COPD Risk Factors

While there are some genetic factors (especially alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency) and asthmatics are at greater risk, most COPD risk factors are lifestyle-related.

SMOKING

Research has shown that smoking is the leading cause of COPD and the most common trigger of COPD flare-ups (2).

OBESITY

Although there is debate about how obesity influences COPD and some data suggests obesity in severe COPD patients may actually be associated with longer lifespan (known as the “obesity paradox”), there is no argument that obesity increases risk for COPD diagnosis (3). This association is especially strong in individuals who have never smoked (4). This is likely due to lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise.

EXPOSURE

Consistent exposure to chemicals, dust, and burning fuel fumes (usually occupational) has been shown to increase COPD risk (5).

COPD and Air Quality

When we breathe, pollutants that are in the air can get into our lungs. There is evidence that certain respiratory conditions such as COPD can be exacerbated by excessive exposure to air pollution and that it may increase risk for developing other respiratory conditions (6). More recent research suggests that air quality may have implications for a variety of other non-respiratory chronic health conditions (7). This is exactly why it is important to be cognizant of air quality when participating in outdoor activities. That being said, there is some debate in the medical and scientific communities about the influence of air quality on COPD risk. While it may acutely exacerbate the condition or be an outbreak trigger, currently there is not conclusive evidence that air quality is a factor in the development of COPD (8). So, it is important to be aware of the outside air quality, but abstaining from smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and not spending extended time in areas with toxic fumes are likely the most important factors in minimizing COPD risk.

COPD is one of America’s most common and deadly diseases, primarily because it is usually not caught early enough. If you are experiencing any of the signs of impaired pulmonary function, contact your Prime Meridian Healthcare provider for a consultation to be tested for COPD and discuss how you can support pulmonary and overall health.

References

1

COPD National Action Plan

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

4

Relationship between Obesity and COPD

Fuller-Thomson E., et al.

7

Air Pollution and Noncommunicable Disease

Schraufnagel D., et al.

2

COPD in Smokers and Non-smokers

Terzikhan N., et al.

5

Occupational Exposures and COPD

Kurth L., et al.

8

Impact of Air Quality on Lung Health

Marino E., et al.

3

Obesity and COPD

Galesanu R., et al.

6

Pulmonary Health Effects of Air Pollution

Kurt O., et al.