Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a chronic disease that is characterized by shortness of breath, cough, and sputum production. It is a primary lung disease that progressively worsens over a period leading to severe debilitation. Severe COPD is often complicated with heart and mood disorders and results in a significant reduction in quality of life, life expectancy and increases the cost of health care. COPD occurs mostly in long term cigarette smokers of age 35 years and older.
Shared Service Canada (2018) reported that two million Canadians (age 35 years and older) were diagnosed with COPD in 2012-2013, which was an 82 per cent rise from that of 2000-2011. Statistics Canada (2015) estimated the prevalence of COPD in B.C and Ontario to be about one in every five residents and that a substantial number of Canadians have undiagnosed COPD. Chronic respiratory disease which includes COPD is the fifth most common cause of death in Canada (2011). According to Breathe The Lung Association (2012), the estimated cost of COPD management in Canadians was 1.5 billion dollars and, one in seven COPD patients had to stop working permanently while one in three found it difficult to perform physical activities due to disability from COPD.
COPD starts and progresses slowly and gets worse over time. The common symptoms of COPD are long-lasting cough, a cough that produces mucus, shortness of breath; especially during physical activity, tight feeling in the chest, not being able to take a deep breath and fatigue. Initial symptom of COPD could be cough only. From time to time, COPD patients get an exacerbation of their symptoms. An exacerbation is characterized by worsening of some or all of the following: shortness of breath, worsening of cough and /or change in quantity/nature of the sputum.
COPD is usually caused by breathing air that contains chemicals harmful to the lungs and this includes air pollutants, chemical fumes, gases, vapours, mists, dust, and tobacco smoke including secondhand smoke. Tobacco is the most single cause of COPD (about 80 per cent of the cases). Some people have a genetic condition that can cause COPD, even if they have never been exposed to lung irritants.
In most cases, COPD is an avoidable disease and by avoiding tobacco smoking including secondhand smoking. Lung function test(spirometry) is the diagnostic test for COPD.
While screening for COPD is not necessary, early diagnosis and treatment are key to successful care. A long-term tobacco smoker that develops early symptoms of COPD (new shortness breath with physical activities and chronic cough) should see a doctor soonest. Disease progression and death from COPD are preventable by early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Lifestyle modification and mostly quitting every form of smoking are foundational to the treatment of COPD. This prevents disease progression and the severity of the symptoms over a period. Inhaler is the most common medication for COPD. For proper use and best benefit from an inhaler, most inhalers should be used with a spacer device. Antibiotics and steroid pills are usually added to the treatment during COPD exacerbation. People with COPD are at risk of severe respiratory infection which could be caused by viruses or bacteria. To avoid a serious form of lung infection, pneumonia and yearly flu vaccines are recommended for all COPD patients. Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise and behavior therapy that improves breathing and physical activity tolerance. This treatment is useful in improving the quality of life of COPD patients. Some Severe COPD may require treatment with ambulatory/home oxygen and in rare cases lung surgery.
COPD is a lifelong disease condition. This makes having a care plan for everyday life and for exacerbation management crucial. Every COPD patient should discuss having a prescription for antibiotics and steroids on hand with his physician. With this, a patient can start treatment for exacerbation without delay to been seen by a physician for prescription. This significantly reduces the severity of the exacerbation. In addition to the above measures, one should be sure to avoid exposure to a substance that irritates the lungs that could trigger an exacerbation.
Apart from COPD, tobacco smoking is a major risk for heart diseases and several cancers. Health practitioners highly recommend that tobacco smokers should quit every form of smoking including vaping. Your physician can help you with information on available supports and treatment options that can assist you to stop smoking. Book an appointment with your physician today.