Six Warning Signs of COPD

(Photo Credit: Untsystem.edu)
(Photo Credit: Untsystem.edu)

COPD?  What is that supposed to mean?

But first, let these six symptoms be our guide.  Do we, or someone in our family, have the following signs or symtoms?

  • A persistent, ongoing cough or a cough which may or may not produce a lot of mucus (often called “smoker’s cough”)
  • Shortness of breath or dyspnea,  especially after a physical activity or long walks
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing; that  continuous, coarse, whistling sound produced in the respiratory airways while breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Having many respiratory infections

A friend’s brother died of  COPD, and yet when he was alive, nobody knew he had COPD.  Actually, it’s not a term which is common to a lot of people, including me and my family. Not ’til our own father was diagnosed with it.  So, what is COPD, you say?

COPD refers to Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, one of the most common lung diseases which denotes  difficulty in breathing.

Causes may include:

  • Cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke ;  although not all cigarette smokers may develop COPD.  However, based from studies, it is estimated that 15% will.   In addition, smokers with COPD have higher death rates than nonsmoker with COPD;  have more frequent respiratory symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, colds,etc. and a more rapid deterioration in lung function than non-smokers.   Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke is, likewise, as risky, too.
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of air pollution have caused problems for those with lung ailments, but as per studies, in the non-industrialized world, it has been noted that the most common cause of COPD is indoor air pollution, especially  due to indoor stoves or wood burning used for cooking.  Frequent use of cooking fire in the house without proper ventilation is a risky practice.
  • Occupational pollutants such as cadmium and silica do increase the risk of COPD especially with the labor sector such as coal miners, construction workers, furniture sanders and painters/varnishers, metal workers, cotton workers, factory workers in plastic manufacturing, etc.  Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace is a real threat to one’s health.  However, these occupations are more often associated with interstitial lung diseases (the name for a large group of diseases which inflame or scar the lungs)  esp. the pneumoconioses – a disease of the lungs, such as asbestosis or silicosis, caused by long-continued inhalation of especially mineral or metallic dust.Nevertheless, the adverse effects of smoking cigarettes on lung function are far greater than occupational exposure.

There are two main forms of COPD, but most people with COPD have a combination of both of the following conditions:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus
  • Emphysema, which involves destruction of the lungs over time

Sadly though,  COPD may cause no symptoms or may manifest only mild symptoms at first; barely noticeable at the onset of the disease.  But as the disease worsens, we learned that symptoms usually become more severe.

Those with COPD often have colds or influenza (or flu).  However, not everyone who has the symptoms enumerated above has COPD, and vise versa;  not everyone who has COPD has those symptoms.   It is not remote that some of the symptoms of COPD may also be symptoms of other diseases and conditions.   The best way to confirm is to go  to your doctor to  find out whether you have COPD as soon as you notice those four disturbing symptoms in yourself or members of your family.

You see, if  the symptoms are mild, it is not noticeable.  Chances are, when we have experienced one or two of the above symptoms, we may have adjusted our lifestyle to avoid recurrence of those symptoms.  To make our breathing easier, we may have opted not to climb stairs anymore, and preferred to take elevators instead.    We may have skipped daily brisk walking when we felt shortness of breath after just a few minutes of walking.

But over time, symptoms may become severe enough to cause some worries; like getting shortness of breath while on your way to work or feeling a tightness in your chest even when you have not really exerted much physical effort over a task.  Actually, the severity of symptoms  depend on how much lung damage there is, especially if  you been a long-time smoker.  The damage occurs faster with heavy and deep smokers.

Those with severe COPD have been known to have other symptoms and may require treatment in a hospital:

  • swelling in the ankles, feet, or legs
  •  weight loss
  • and lower muscle endurance

Emergency care is a MUST  if:

  • a person is having a hard time catching one’s breath or simple talking
  • a person’s lips or fingernails  has turned blue or gray; which is a sign of having low oxygen level in the blood
  • a person is showing slow mental alertness (compared to usual active and alert mental state)
  • the heartbeat is very fast or has strong palpitations
  • the recommended treatment for those symptoms aren’t  working, and  the status is worsening

 

Web Sources:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/signs.html

http://www.medicinenet.com/chronic_obstructive_pulmonary_disease_copd/page4.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001153/