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Understanding COPD

Dr. Poonam Warman, MD

Understanding COPD What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lung disease that can limit your airflow. When some people hear “COPD,” they are not sure what to think. It may be confusing because Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is only one of a group of closely related chronic lung diseases.

COPD may include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, asthmatic bronchitis and other conditions. A high percentage of people who suffer from COPD are, or were, tobacco users. There is no cure for COPD. But proper medications and lifestyle changes can control symptoms and reduce the progression of damage to your lungs.

First and foremost, if you smoke, stop!
COPD is an extremely common condition affecting about 5% of Americans; meaning approximately 13.5 million people in the USA have COPD. 15 million people are thought to have undiagnosed COPD. More than 125,000 deaths occur annually due to COPD.

Emphysema is a disease that damages the terminal air sacs in the lungs and chronic bronchitis affects the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs.

Common day-to-day COPD symptoms include coughing up mucus or phlegm, difficult breathing and shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.Some people may think they simply have a “smoker’s cough” or that breathlessness is just a part of getting older. It may be nothing serious or it may be an early sign of COPD. Either way, it is always recommended to seek medical attention if these symptoms persist. COPD is a very progressive disease that gets worse over time, especially with continued smoking. By the time many patients are diagnosed with COPD, they have lost some of their lung function. The earlier COPD is diagnosed, the sooner you and your doctor can start managing it.

A diagnosis of COPD may be delayed or missed because symptoms of COPD generally develop slowly over years and may not be noticed initially.

Some symptoms, such as fatigue, weakness, and dizziness can be vague and attributed to other conditions, such as aging. Other symptoms, like shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain may be confused for symptoms of a heart attack, pneumonia, heart failure, or influenza.

Many COPD patients suffer from cardiovascular disease, likewise many COPD patients die of heart failure or stroke. Why you might ask? Unfortunately, disease often does not stay tucked neatly into one part of the body. Our lungs enable us to breathe. More specifically, the lungs bring oxygen to the blood, and the heart transports this oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. If the lungs fail to oxygenate the blood sufficiently, as occurs in a COPD patient, blood vessels may become brittle or constricted. Before long, the heart pumps too weakly to do its job well, leading to further health problems. COPD makes the heart work harder, especially the right side, which pumps blood into the lungs.

Even mild COPD can harm the heart; sometimes even before COPD symptoms even occur. The heart receives blood from the body, pumps it into the lungs, receives it fully oxygenated from the lungs and pumps it back into the body. If you have COPD, this process is not as efficient as it should be.

When you are diagnosed with COPD, you may have many questions and the answers may not always be clear at first. Many people think that the symptoms of COPD are just a part of getting older and not a sign of something more serious. For this reason, they may have COPD for a long time before the symptoms become enough of a problem that they see a doctor.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine if you may have COPD:
. Are you a smoker?
. Do you have a nagging cough that goes on for weeks or months?
. Do you have a cold that never seems to clear?
. Do you often feel like you have trouble breathing?
. Are you unable to take a deep breath?
. Do you get winded during mild activity?
. Are you always tired and exhausted?
. Do you have trouble gaining weight despite eating adequately?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consult your doctor immediately.

It is important that COPD be diagnosed in its early stages. The sooner a person quits smoking and avoids other risk factors that can make COPD worse, the better the chances of slowing the damage to the lungs.

Most doctors can make a tentative diagnosis of COPD by asking about your symptoms during a physical exam. Other tests used to confirm a diagnosis of COPD may include:
. Chest x-rays, which are used to rule out other conditions that have the same symptoms as COPD.
. Blood tests, which tell doctors how much oxygen is in the bloodstream.
. Electrocardiography (EKG or ECG) and echo-cardiography, which are used to rule out any heart problems that may be causing your symptoms.
. Breathing test [PFT] to evaluate the nature and severity of the COPD.

Although COPD cannot be cured, it can be managed. The goals of treatment are to:
. Slow down the disease by avoiding tobacco smoke and air pollution.
. Limit your symptoms, such as shortness of breath. Increase your activity level.
. Improve your overall health and quality of daily living.
. Prevent and treat flare-ups. A flare-up is when your symptoms quickly get worse and stay worse.

Medications, Oxygen Therapy, Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs, Lung Volume Reduction Surgery are all options for treatments that are available to treat patients suffering from COPD.

Many people are able to manage their COPD well enough to take part in their usual daily activities, hobbies, and family events. It is important to talk to your doctor about all of your concerns and to ask lots of questions. Something that you may not think is relevant may be useful in pinpointing the problem.

Dr. Warman specializes in pulmonary diseases and can help anyone who is suffering with COPD. Schedule a consultation today and get back your life and start breathing easier again, the act of breathing is living!

Dr. Poonam Warman, MD
1500 SE Magnolia Ave. | Ocala, FL | 352-369-6139

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