Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) poses a considerable burden, affecting nearly 50 million individuals in India. COPD significantly hampers the quality of life for those affected, making even routine activities a challenge. However, with appropriate management and treatment, individuals can gain control over their symptoms, and lead a fulfilling life.,
What is COPD?
COPD is an umbrella term for a group of chronic lung diseases, that is characterized by the irreversible inflammation it causes to the airways which gradually reduces the ease at which air flows in and out. COPD primarily consists of two distinct conditions, that usually occur together and can vary in severity among individuals with COPD:
• Chronic Bronchitis where the inside of the bronchial tubes (i.e., the tubes that carry air from the windpipe to the lungs) swell and narrow, leading to excessive mucus production and chronic coughing
• Emphysema is defined by the destruction of the tiny air sacs (i.e., alveoli) in the lungs responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This damage is typically caused by exposure to cigarette smoke, other irritating pollutants, and particulate matter, leading to a loss of lung elasticity and causing shortness of breath.
Symptoms of COPD
The symptoms of COPD can vary in severity, from mild to severe, and can often go undiagnosed until the condition reaches an advanced stage. Primary symptomsinclude breathlessness, coughing, excessive mucus production, chest tightening, and wheezing particularly during physical exertion or even minor activities. 1
Causes and Risk Factors
COPD is often labelled as a "smoker's disease," and while smoking is a primary risk factor for developing the condition, it isn’t the only one. Additional risk factors include;
• A history of childhood respiratory infections
• Long-standing poorly/untreated asthma
• Exposure to indoor pollution like smoke from coal or wood-burning stoves, mosquito coils, incense sticks
• Exposure to urban or traffic-related air pollution
• Second-hand tobacco smoke
• Occupational-related pollutant exposure in industries like agriculture
Diagnosis, Treating & Managing COPD
Diagnosing COPD primarily involves a lung function test known as spirometry, which measures an individual's lung function by assessing the volume of air they can inhale and exhale. This test is crucial for confirming a COPD diagnosis, and it offers valuable insights into the severity of the condition.
While COPD is not curable, the effective management of COPD involves a multifaceted approach, which can significantly improve the patient's quality of life.
Inhaled medicines: Central to the treatment of COPD are inhaled medications, particularly bronchodilator inhalers. They relax the muscles around the airways, relieve coughing or shortness of breath, thus making it easier to breathe. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition: a short-acting bronchodilator may be prescribed by a doctor for use before activities, a long-acting bronchodilator for everyday use or even both.These Inhalers can be used regularly or during acute exacerbations, which is the sudden and rapid worsening in airway function and respiratory symptoms, as prescribed by a doctor. Correct inhaler technique is vital, and sometimes a spacer device is recommended for optimal medication delivery.
For specific patient groups who may struggle with rapid inhalation, nebulized treatments, especially with portable devices for home care, can be a highly effective option, particularly during a lung attack.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Furthermore, Pulmonary Rehabilitation can greatly help improve quality of life. These are medically supervised programs designed to improve respiratory function for individuals with lung conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This program includes lessons in breathing techniques and exercises as it can assist in managing breathlessness and improving oxygen intake as well as overall lung health.
Lifestyle Changes & Regular Monitoring: Lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking, maintaining a balanced diet, exercise, and avoiding lung irritants, are essential. Regular monitoring, including spirometry tests to measure lung function, is crucial for tracking disease progression and adjusting treatment plans as needed.
These treatments collectively form a comprehensive approach to managing COPD and improving patients' well-being.
Understanding the basics of COPD is the first step in facing this challenging condition. Early detection, accurate diagnosis, and timely intervention are pivotal in the effective long-term management of COPD. By recognizing the symptoms, seeking medical attention, and following recommended treatment plans, individuals can significantly improve their quality of life and enhance their life expectancy while living with COPD. With ongoing support from healthcare professionals and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, those grappling with this condition can find hope and the means to breathe easier, live better, and enjoy a fulfilling life.
Authored Article By: Dr. Parthiv Shah, Consultant Chest Physician, Mumbai