COPD - the common abbreviation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - is a common, long-term lung disease. People with COPD have an airflow problem that makes breathing very difficult all the time. The symptoms of COPD are often mild at first, but can progress and become debilitating. The more you know about COPD's risk factors and symptoms, the better you can reduce your chances of having the disease.
Common COPD risk factors
Risk factors are behaviors or circumstances that increase the likelihood of getting a disease or condition. COPD can happen to people without the following risk factors, but if you have these risk factors, you have a greater chance of developing COPD during your life. The good news? It's never too late to make changes to reduce your risk.
Almost all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. The second highest risk factor is age - you are more likely to develop COPD as you get older - but smoking still carries the most impact. The number of cigarettes smoked and the number of years you smoked them can cause COPD to occur at an earlier age. Other risk factors include:
- A history of frequent childhood lung infections
- Gender- COPD is more common in men than women
- Exposure to environmental or occupational pollutants
Early symptoms of COPD
Cough: A cough that produces a lot of mucus is a common symptom of COPD.
Wheezing: A prolonged whistling or rustling sound may that may be heard when exhaling.
Shortness of breath: This symptom develops as COPD becomes progressively worse. As first, shortness of breath may only occur with physical exertion. As the disease becomes more advanced, it may occur after very modest activity. When the illness becomes quite severe, shortness of breath occurs even at rest.
Advanced symptoms of COPD
Severe shortness of breath with chronic, persistent coughing: In advanced COPD, even very mild activities produce significant shortness of breath. Repeated bouts of coughing with sputum production may become disabling. Nighttime coughing may interfere with sleep. You may feel a choking sensation when lying flat. Difficultly breathing may cause sufferers to breathe through pursed lips or to lean forward when sitting or standing in order to breathe more comfortably.
Heart problems: COPD makes the heart work harder and the walls of the heart become thickened from the extra work needed to pump blood into the resistant lungs. The normal rhythm of the heart may be disturbed . Lack of oxygen in your blood can produce a bluish tinge to you skin, nails, and lips. This is called cyanosis.
Fluid accumulation: The extra strain on your heart may cause a slowdown of blood circulation. This, in turn, can cause engorgement of the large veins and liver, and eventually, fluid leakage into the abdomen, legs, and ankles (edema).
Increased chest size: Because COPD destroys the normal lung structure, you cannot exhale completely. Air gets trapped in the lungs and they become hyper-inflated. This causes the chest to expand, leading to a permanent condition referred to as "barrel chest".
Increased risk of serious lung infections: The accumulation of mucus and fluid in the lungs provides an ideal environment for bacteria and viruses to grow. These lung infections may become serious, further compromising breathing ability.
Don't wait until your symptoms are advanced to see your doctor. There are many treatment options available that can make living with COPD more comfortable. Having regular check-ups can help your doctor diagnose chronic diseases like COPD and get you on the road to better health.