COPD is a leading cause of death across the world. Unlike other conditions such as heart disease, the incidences of COPD are still increasing. In the US, it accounts for 726,000 hospitalizations and 1.5 million Emergency Room visits every year.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that there is an increasing demand for COPD education among people who may be at risk of this disease. Being well-informed could prevent the onset or development of the disease.
There is also evidence to show that education and self-management can help to reduce hospitalizations for acute exacerbations for patients with COPD. Read on to find out more about the symptoms associated with a COPD diagnosis and the treatments available.
All About COPD
COPD is a serious disease, and it’s natural following a diagnosis that patients and their families will want some more COPD information to help them get to grips with understanding this condition.
COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and the name gives some clues as to what the experience of this condition is like. It’s a lung disorder that causes breathing difficulties and it can feel like there are constant blockages in the airways.
To fully understand the COPD disease process, it’s helpful to know a bit more about how the lungs work. The lungs are made up of bronchial tubes, which branch off into smaller bronchioles. At the end of each bronchiole, there are tiny air sacs called alveoli.
The alveoli fill up with air when you breathe in, then separate out the oxygen and transfer it into the bloodstream. Carbon dioxide is also expelled back into the alveoli so that it can be released when you exhale. This whole process is known as gas exchange.
COPD causes damage to the alveoli, which means that the air sacs are no longer fully functional. This can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms.
Types of COPD
COPD is actually a blanket term to describe a range of conditions that have an impact on breathing. There are two main conditions that affect most people who have been diagnosed with COPD.
Inflammation or irritation of the bronchial tubes causes coughing and shortness of breath, along with over-production of mucus. If these symptoms last for at least three months at a time, and for more than two years, then this is considered to be chronic bronchitis, which is a form of COPD.
In patients with emphysema, the walls of the alveoli can break down. This means there is less surface capacity for oxygen to enter the bloodstream.
Emphysema also causes the airways in the lungs to become less flexible and stretchy. This results in the air becoming trapped inside, so carbon dioxide is not fully expelled. This gives a sensation of shortness of breath.
Recognizing the Symptoms of COPD
COPD is often misdiagnosed, as the symptoms could equally apply to various respiratory infections and allergies. However, early diagnosis is important in slowing the progression of the disease. You should seek medical advice if you are suffering from any of the following symptoms:
- A chronic cough, lasting more than six-eight weeks
- Chest tightness and shortness of breath
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Fatigue and reduced exercise tolerance
The Importance of COPD Education
Learning about the causes of COPD is a critical first step in preventing more people from being affected by this disease. Once diagnosed, it’s important for patients to be well-informed about their condition and learn the various techniques recommended to help ease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Risk Factors for COPD
For the vast majority of sufferers, COPD is the result of smoking cigarettes. Contrary to popular belief, recent research has shown that women are actually more at risk from smoking than men. Women under 60 with COPD had worse lung function than men of the same age.
Quitting smoking is the single most important way to prevent the development of COPD. After a diagnosis, it is just as critical, as carrying on smoking can speed up the progress of the disease.
Other risk factors for COPD include exposure to secondhand smoke and chemical fumes. People with COPD should ensure they are always in a smoke-free environment and avoid heavily scented hygiene products or cleaning products containing harsh chemicals. COPD sufferers should also be mindful of allergens and air pollution.
Patient Education for People With COPD
There are several strategies that have been shown to reduce exacerbations and ease symptoms for patients with COPD. It’s important that COPD sufferers are educated in self-management techniques that can improve their quality of life.
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are often recommended for COPD patients. These usually last 8-12 weeks and involve education about the condition, advice on exercise, social support, and learning how to do breathing exercises.
There is good evidence that participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program can decrease the frequency of exacerbations, improve exercise tolerance, and improve quality of life. These programs can be beneficial even for patients with severe shortness of breath and advanced COPD.
Many medications commonly prescribed for COPD, such as Advair Diskus, are delivered by an inhalation device. Others require nebulizers, which turn the medication into a mist that you can breathe in.
Both inhalers and nebulizers require a proper technique for effective use. If the devices are not used correctly, the medication is not delivered to the lungs properly and will not be as effective.
It’s important for COPD sufferers to receive specialist training in inhaler technique from their healthcare team. This, and practice, will make the process more comfortable and effective.
Life With COPD
It can feel overwhelming to be diagnosed with a chronic condition. It’s common for patients with COPD to also suffer from depression and anxiety, due to the progressive nature of the disease and the perception of a poor prognosis.
However, with good COPD education, it’s possible for patients to live a full and happy life with this condition. There are some lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking and improving exercise and diet, which can have a very positive impact on the quality of life.
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