COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Causes
COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It covers a range of lung diseases that include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive airways disease.
SymptomsA common symptom of COPD is what many people call “smoker’s cough”. Such a cough is persistent and becomes worse. The primary symptom, however, is Breathing Problems. Doctors refer to this as airflow obstruction.
PrevalenceCOPD is widespread. The NHS has diagnosed about 900,000 people as having COPD. But the British Lung Foundation believes this figure is actually 3.7 million. The reason for the disparity is that people don’t go to the doctor with what they think is just a cough. More men than women in the UK suffer with COPD. But there is evidence that COPD is increasing among women.
Generally speaking, most people who develop COPD symptoms do so after the age of 40. The annual death rate from COPD in the UK is around 30,000.
CausesSmoking is the main cause of COPD. Studies also show that lung infections, and air pollution in cities and industrial areas, may cause and contribute to the disease.
Food, in the form of cured meats, may cause COPD to develop. Some scientists say that the preservative in such meats, sodium nitrite, poses a risk if ingested in large quantities. Occupational hazards don’t necessarily cause COPD. But they can increase the risk for smokers.
Welding Fumes, for instance, may contribute to COPD. This is one of the reasons why it is vital for welding areas to have ventilation hoods that extract the fumes. Dusts inhaled by coal miners and textile industry workers may exacerbate COPD. Chemicals such as isocyanates and cadmium that are present in some industrial processes can also affect workers’ lungs and airways.
EffectsThe effects of COPD are cumulative. Gradually, the bronchioles (airways) of the lungs constrict. This means that less air can reach the lungs. The alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs then suffer irreversible damage.
People who develop COPD notice difficulty breathing. Over time, this worsens; walking, bending down, tying shoelaces and other normal activities become increasingly hard. During the winter months, COPD sufferers may also cough up mucus from their lungs. The lack of air that penetrates lungs because of the narrowed bronchioles also raises the danger of heart failure.
At first, COPD may seem like asthma. But those with asthma can gain relief with successful treatments. Unfortunately, COPD is a permanent problem. Temporary relief comes in the form of an inhaler.
PreventionThe best method of prevention is to stop smoking, if this applies. Studies in America show that 80% - 90% of COPD patients are smokers. But whether someone who has COPD symptoms is a smoker or not, it’s important to see a GP. Ideally, the GP should arrange a chest X-ray to confirm that COPD is the cause of any problem. The GP may also suggest a lung function test. This involves the patient blowing into a tube to determine the effectiveness of the lungs.
Such a test held in a shopping centre by the British Lung Foundation found that more than 30% of participants had a poor response.
A GP may also prescribe an inhaler and give a prescription for emergency antibiotics. Taking antibiotics promptly can make it easier to deal with the alarming breathlessness that COPD patients endure when they develop chest infections.