People used to speak of emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, but Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD as it is generally referred to) is a collective term used to describe several chronic lung diseases, which all cause limitations of airflow from the lungs.
This is not merely a so-called ‘smoker’s cough’, but a serious and progressive life-threatening disease, which causes ongoing breathing difficulties – and says the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2015, it killed more than 3 million people worldwide.
A large international study established that the highest prevalence of Stage 2 or higher COPD was found among people in Cape Town and it surmised that both smoking and occupational dust were responsible.
The causes of COPD
Tobacco smoke (this includes second hand exposure), pollution (in low-income countries, especially indoor air pollution from cooking fuels) and fumes, as well as frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood can all be causes of COPD. Many people are exposed to fumes, dust and pollution while at work.
About 2 – 3 percent of people with COPD have a DNA defect, which can lead to the development of this lung disease.
The WHO estimates that by 2030 tobacco-related deaths are projected to increase to 8.3 million per year.
The symptoms of COPD
This disease develops slowly and mostly affects people older than 40 or 50. The disease is characterised by breathlessness, a chronic cough and mucus production. From time to time, these symptoms can worsen, making everyday activities that are slightly strenuous, such as walking up a flight of stairs, or carrying things, difficult.
Required lifestyle changes if you have COPD
It is essential that you stop smoking, and also avoid spaces where other people smoke, exposing you to it. Also avoid polluted or dusty areas. If you have COPD, a bout of flu can have serious consequences, so it is a good idea to get flu vaccines every year in order to avoid this as far as possible. A healthy diet and regular exercise are both also essential in maintaining your health and managing your COPD.
Medical treatment of COPD
Healthcare professionals prescribe medication for people with COPD to achieve three major things: to reduce their shortness of breath, to control their coughing and wheezing, and to try and prevent COPD flare-ups.
Bronchodilators make breathing easier by relaxing the muscles around your airways. In more severe cases, inhaled corticosteroids may also be prescribed. In severe cases, patients benefit from long-term oxygen therapy.
To people with COPD, even a common cold can easily lead to a more serious lower respiratory tract infection, apart from making it even more difficult to breathe than usual. People with COPD need to alert their doctor if their COPD symptoms get worse. Treatment may include inhaled medications, oxygen and antibiotics, the last of which can help to treat a bacterial infection (but unfortunately not the common cold itself).
In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, MediHub cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.