Editorial by Mary W. Poole
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term used to describe progressive lung disease such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma. COPD affects an estimated 24 million individuals in the United States. The diseases is characterized by increased breathlessness. Symptoms of COPD often do not appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time, particularly if smoking exposure continues. For chronic bronchitis, the main symptom is a daily cough and sputum production at least three months a year for two consecutive years.
Many people mistake their increased breathlessness and coughing as a normal part of aging. In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath. You begin to see the symptoms in the more developed stages of the disease. That is why it is important that you talk to your doctor as soon as you notice any of these symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
- Chest tightness
- Having to clear your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungs
- A chronic cough that produces sputum that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
- Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Lack of energy
- Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
Understanding the breathing process is imperative to understanding the impacts of COPD. Air travels down your windpipe and into your lungs through two large tubes called bronchi. Inside your lungs, these tubes divide many times, similar to branches of a tree. These branches then branch into smaller tubes called bronchioles that end in clusters of tiny air sacs called alveoli. The air sacs have very thin walls full of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. The oxygen in the air you inhale passes into these blood vessels and enters your bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide, a gas that is a waste product of metabolism is exhaled. Your lungs rely on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to force air out of your body. COPD causes them to lose their elasticity and over expand which leaves some air trapped in your lungs when you exhale. People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse than usual day-to-day variation and persist for at least several days.
Learning about COPD, learning what is happening in your lungs and learning proper breathing techniques can help you to control your breathing instead of letting it control you. Ask your healthcare professional about referring you for a spirometry test. Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas can assist in helping you do what others do – Breathe Easy. To schedule, have your physician call 212-7167, testing available at the Beaumont and Orange Campus.
Mary W. Poole is Director Public Relations at Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas