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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a general term for many lung diseases that affect breathing. It refers to lung diseases that are chronic (long term), progressive (developing) and mostly irreversible. The most common lung diseases included under this term are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

    COPD damages the airways that carry air to the lungs. The airway walls become narrowed and swollen, therefore obstructing the airflow in and out of the lungs. Some forms of COPD can scar the lungs and lead to increased airway resistance, while others induce the excessive secretion of phlegm that the lungs are not able to clear.

  • There are some risk factors that increase the chance of COPD:

    • Air pollution including biomass fuel used for cooking, or pollutants in the workplace like dusts and chemicals may also lead to the development of the disease.
    • Smoking is the main risk factor inmost COPD cases. It leads to the damage and swelling of the lining of the lung airways.
    • Those who lack a specific protein (alpha-1 antitrypsin), whose role is to protect the lung, have a greater risk of developing emphysema.
    • Those who suffered from regular respiratory infections during childhood are more prone to developing COPD.
  • The symptoms of COPD include:

    • Blue tinge to the skin due to reduced oxygen supply
    • Chronic coughing
    • Coughing up phlegm
    • Dizziness
    • Tiredness
    • Shortness of breath at rest in severe cases
    • Shortness of breath with exertion
    • Stiffness in chest
    • Swelling of feet, ankles and legs
    • Unintended weight loss
    • Wheezing
  • The lung damage caused by COPD is irreversible. However, there are treatment options available to ease symptoms and reduce the damage to the lungs. A doctor will evaluate the condition and suggest the most suitable treatment options. These may include:

    • Stop smoking – the most important measure needed to slow the progression of the disease and increase the rate of survival
    • Home oxygen therapy – for severe COPD as blood oxygen can be constantly low. Oxygen is supplied by using an oxygen concentrator or oxygen tanks
    • Lung transplant – for extreme COPD cases
    • Lung volume reduction surgery to remove the diseased part of the lung – for certain patients (ie. those who suffer from emphysema)
    • Medication – including inhalers and tablets to help open the airways, and antibiotics and steroids to manage swelling of the airways
    • Pulmonary rehabilitation – for those with severe COPD. This involves exercise training, patient education, dietary guidance and psychological counselling
    • Yearly flu vaccines as well as vaccination against pneumococcus (most common cause of pneumonia)
    • Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart beat)
    • Frequent respiratory infections including pneumonia
    • Heart failure
    • Sleep disorders
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