I read it clearly. A diagnosis of COPD is not the end of the world. Whew! This made me smile brightly for the first time in weeks; for my father.
According to research, for all stages of the disease, there are effective therapies available which can help control the symptoms, minimize the risks of complications and exacerbations, and improve one’s ability to lead a more active life than just sitting and lying down.
But before treatment could be started, it is best to understand first some basic information regarding COPD; the risks, causes and tests.
Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Add occupational pollutants to that, you become a high risk for COPD; because the more a person smokes, the more likelihood of developing COPD (although some people who smoked for years never developed COPD; lucky for them!)
There are rare cases, though, wherein nonsmokers who lack a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin have developed emphysema. Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is a condition in which the body does not make enough of a protein which is responsible for protecting the lungs and liver from damage and which may possibly lead to emphysema and liver disease.
Other risk factors for COPD include:
- Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution
- Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace (occupational pollutants)
- Frequent indoor use of cooking fire without proper ventilation
Tests in determining possibility of COPD:
- spirometry – a lung function test involving ‘blowing out as hard as possible‘ into a small machine which tests lung capacity.
- stethoscope – which a doctor uses to listen to a patient’s lungs; however, there have been incidents when the lungs sounded normal even though COPD is present.
- x-rays and CT scans done on the lungs may indicate COPD, but there are also incidents when pictures or representations of the images (esp. chest x-ray) have shown normal even when a person already has COPD
- Blood test called arterial blood gas to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
Up to the present, no cure has been found yet for COPD, but there are ways to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting none the worse. COPD can be managed (i.e., according to a person’s determination) if the goals of treatment are aligned with one’s personal goal to improve his quality of life.
Treatment goals include:
- slowing down the disease through smoking cessation and avoiding pollution of any sort
- limiting shortness of breath symptoms
- improving overall health
- increasing the activity level of the patient
- preventing and treating exacerbation or flare-ups
Believe it or not, but many people are able to manage their COPD well enough; prompted by their desire and positive outlook to still be able to enjoy their family life and their hobbies as well as their daily activities.
Initial treatment for COPD covers things you have to do for yourself; to breathe better and slow the disease.
- Smoking cessation – is the best way to slow down the lung damage and most essential in any treatment plan to keep COPD from developing into its worst state. For patients who have great difficulty to cease smoking, avoid secondhand smoke exposure whenever possible and to be less tempted to smoke, too. Consult your doctor about nicotine replacement products and medications which might help beat the habit and how to handle relapses (if ever). Fortunately, today’s medicines offer lots of help for people who want to quit. The odds get even better when you combine medicine and other quit strategies like counseling or group support.
- Practice how to breathe properly – Pulmonary rehabilitation may not cure the lung disease, but it teaches the patient to breathe in a different way to stay active. Learn ways to breathe to improve airflow in and out of your lungs; how to clear your lungs to save energy and oxygen. Pulmonary rehabilitation may shorten hospitalizations, increase your ability to participate in everyday activities and improve your quality of life.
- Be active and stay active – Doctor-recommended exercises will help a COPD patient maintain muscle strength in the legs. Walk to build up strength. Try not to talk when you walk if you get short of breath and use pursed lip breathing when breathing out (to empty your lungs before the next breath. Have a better attitude about your life and the disease, work on achieving a more positive outlook and attitude in life and be less likely to feel depressed or isolated from friends and family.
- Keep yourself healthy – Practice more hygiene. Avoid contacting germs and virus which may infect your lungs. Have a yearly flu vaccine and a pneumococcal shot. Have a healthy diet with fish, poultry, or lean meat, as well as fruits and vegetables. To keep your weight up (if you’re underweught), consult a dietitian about eating foods with more calories. Take note that weight loss and muscle weakness make it harder for your body to fight the disease.
- Avoid triggers – Knowing and avoiding what triggers a flare-up will do you good. Avoid indoor and outdoor air pollution, cold dry air, hot humid air, and high altitudes. Reduce air pollution by getting rid of fireplace smoke and other irritants around your home or workplace.
- Frequent rests. Have those rest breaks during household chores and other activities. You my want to consult an occupational or physical therapist about finding ways to do everyday activities with less effort.
In treating COPD, some medications may include:
- Inhalers (bronchodilators) to open the airways (doctor’s prescription please)
- Inhaled steroids to reduce lung inflammation
- Anti-inflammatory medications such as montelukast (Singulair) and roflimulast are sometimes used
In cases of exacerbations or flare-ups, COPD patients may need to receive:
- Steroids by mouth or through a vein (intravenously)
- Bronchodilators through a nebulizer
- Oxygen therapy
- Assistance during breathing from a machine (through a mask, BiPAP, or endotracheal tube)
Antibiotics may be prescribed during symptom flare-ups, because infections can make COPD worse. Oxygen therapy may be needed at home if the patient has a low level of oxygen in the blood.
For those with moderate or severe COPD, doctors often use these additional therapies such as :
- Oxygen therapy – for those who lack sufficient oxygen in the blood. There are several devices available to deliver oxygen to your lungs, including lightweight, portable units that you can take with you to run errands and get around town, hence improve your quality of life a well as lengthen it.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation program – covers combined education, exercise training, nutrition advice and counseling. A variety of specialists can prepare a rehabilitation program to meet specific needs. Pulmonary rehabilitation has been known to shorten hospitalizations, increase ability to participate in everyday activities and improve quality of life.
Surgery is an option for those with severe emphysema who aren’t helped sufficiently by medications alone:
- Lung volume reduction surgery to remove small wedges of damaged lung tissue; thereby creating extra space in the chest cavity for the remaining lung tissue and the diaphragm to work more efficiently. For some, this surgery may improve quality of life and prolong survival.
- Lung transplant to improve the patient’s ability to breathe and to be active, but as a major operation it is understable that there are significant risks, such as organ rejection and the need for lifelong immune-suppressing medications.
So as not to get this far, you’d better start reviewing your lifestyle and make sure to make it smoke-free! ^_^