Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD):Causes, Symptoms And Management

Uncover the risk factors and underlying causes of COPD. Learn more about this lung disease, including who is most at risk and how to manage COPD symptoms.

By URLife Team
13 Feb 2023

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe. It is the third leading cause of death worldwide, causing over 3 million deaths in 2019 alone. In India, COPD is a major public health concern.

Nearly 90% of COPD deaths in those under 70 years of age occur in low- and middle-income countries like India. It's important to understand the causes of COPD so we can work towards reducing the number of people affected by this debilitating condition. We spoke to Dr. M.S. Kanwar, senior consultant and advisor Dept.of Pulmonolgy and Critical care, lead lung transplant, Indraprastha, Apollo hospital, New Delhi about COPD who enlightened the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and more.


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Causes of COPD

Dr. Kanwar explains, “COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a condition in which the airways in the lungs become blocked, making it hard to breathe. There are several causes of this chronic airway obstruction, including:”

  • Smoking: One of the most common causes of COPD is smoking cigarettes. Long-term exposure to cigarette smoke can cause irreparable damage to the lungs, and even secondhand smoke can contribute to the development of COPD.
  • Polluted Environment: Exposure to pollution, chemical fumes, toxic substances, or dust in the workplace can also lead to COPD.
  • Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to COPD due to a low level of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin which regulates the lung protection mechanism.
  • Underlying Diseases: Other lung diseases, such as asthma, can also damage the lungs and lead to COPD if not properly managed.


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Symptoms of COPD

Early detection and management of COPD symptoms is crucial for slowing the progression of the disease and improving quality of life. Dr. Kanwar points out, “If you have COPD, you may experience the following symptoms:”

  • Shortness of breath, especially when engaging in physical activity such as walking fast.
  • Excessive mucus production, which may be green, yellow, or colourless.
  • Constant fatigue and weakness.
  • Unintentional weight loss (in severe cases).
  • Chest tightness.
  • Whistling sound while breathing (wheezing).
  • Bluish colouration of the fingernails and lips.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Recurrent colds and respiratory infections.

It's crucial to be aware that the symptoms of COPD can vary and may worsen during certain periods, known as COPD exacerbations. These exacerbations can last for several days and may require additional treatment or monitoring.


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How Does Your Doctor Diagnose COPD?

Doctors can diagnose COPD through various methods. These include:

  • Physical Examination: Your doctor will examine your signs and symptoms and ask about your medical history, family history, and occupation.
  • Lung Function Tests: These tests, such as spirometry, measure the amount of air you can breathe in and out and assess your lung function.
  • Imaging Tests: Chest X-ray and CT scan can show the presence of emphysema and lung damage, as well as rule out other conditions.
  • Laboratory Analysis: Your doctor may check for alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency and measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood to evaluate your lung function.


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Treatments For COPD

If you are diagnosed with COPD, your doctor may prescribe medication such as bronchodilators, which can help you breathe more easily, as well as steroids to reduce inflammation. They may also prescribe antibiotics if you have a respiratory infection, suggests Dr. Kanwar.

In addition to medication, your doctor may recommend lung therapy to improve your breathing. This could include delivering oxygen through various devices, or even a continuous supply of oxygen for severe cases of COPD. Patients may be prescribed nebulisers, inhalers (Beta agonist), oral steroids, mucus thinning medicines and glycopharalite to treat blocked air passage in lungs. Your doctor may also recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which includes exercises to strengthen your lungs and counselling to quit smoking, says Dr. Kanwar.

Dr. Kanwar further adds, “In some cases, surgery may be necessary to improve your condition. Your doctor may recommend surgery such as lung volume reduction surgery, bullectomy, or even a lung transplant. These surgeries can help remove damaged lung tissue and make space for healthy tissue, allowing you to breathe more easily.”

Overall, your doctor has a variety of options to help you breathe more easily, reduce inflammation and improve your quality of life. It's important to schedule an appointment if you're experiencing respiratory symptoms so that you can work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you.


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Can COPD Be Prevented?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a serious condition that affects breathing and can have a significant impact on your quality of life. However, there are measures that you can take to prevent the development of COPD or to slow its progression if you already have it.

The crucial measure in preventing COPD is to discontinue smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD and quitting can significantly reduce your risk of developing the condition. If you're a smoker, it's important to speak with your doctor about the different ways to quit smoking and find the best approach for you.

Another important step in preventing COPD is to avoid exposure to chemical fumes, dust, and smoke. These substances can irritate your lungs and exacerbate COPD symptoms. If you work in an environment where you're exposed to these substances, be sure to wear the appropriate protective gear and take steps to minimise your exposure.

Drinking plenty of water and using a humidifier can also help to prevent COPD. Keeping your lungs hydrated can help to reduce inflammation and improve your breathing. It's also important to exercise regularly, as physical activity can help to improve your lung function and overall health.

Eating a healthy diet is also important in preventing COPD. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds can help to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health.

Finally, it's important to visit your doctor for regular check-ups, even if you don't have any symptoms. Your doctor can help to monitor your lung health, detect any changes early on, and recommend the appropriate treatment. They may also be able to suggest lifestyle changes, medications, or other treatments to help you manage your condition.


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If you have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you must receive specialised care to manage your condition. The O2 Xchange program is a comprehensive care program that provides patients with the necessary support to manage COPD.

To ensure that you receive the best care and management for your COPD, you must visit the on-site health clinic. Don't wait, visit the clinic today to get the care and support you need to manage your condition.


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The above article is medically reviewed by Dr. M.S. Kanwar, senior consultant and advisor Dept.of Pulmonolgy and Critical care, lead lung transplant, Indraprastha, Apollo hospital, New Delhi.







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