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Diagnosed With COPD? What You Should Know

chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
When you have recently been diagnosed with a pulmonary problem like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may be understandably confused and concerned about the situation. COPD is a serious medical condition and your diagnosis can have a major impact on your life.

Get to know some of the facts about COPD and its treatment. Then, you can be sure that you are doing your best to take care of yourself and manage your COPD going forward.

What Is COPD?

COPD is an inflammatory condition that is characterized by the blockage of airflow from the lungs. This condition usually takes one of two forms. A person will either have chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Chronic bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes are clogged with mucus, which causes irritation and also narrows the bronchial passages. Emphysema occurs when the air sacs in the lungs are damaged (usually from cigarette smoking). When the air sacs are damaged, they also become enlarged. This swelling makes breathing difficult for the affected individual.

What Causes COPD?

COPD is most often caused by cigarette smoking or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke. Long-term exposure to other respiratory irritants like industrial chemicals and dust can also cause COPD.

What Can You Expect to Feel When You Have COPD?

There are numerous symptoms of COPD that you should be aware of. When you went to the doctor and received your diagnosis, you may have gone in for shortness of breath or a severe cough.

However, these are just a few of the symptoms you might expect when you have COPD. Some of those symptoms include wheezing, tightness in the chest, low energy levels, respiratory infections like pneumonia, and even swelling in your ankles and feet.

COPD can also cause a lack of oxygenation to the extremities. Because of this, a person's nail beds and even their lips may have a bluish tint to them. This can be one of the scarier-looking symptoms of COPD but is quite common especially in the later stages of the disease.

How Does COPD Progress?

COPD is divided into four distinct stages. These stages are determined by the severity of the condition and the percentage of the lung capacity cut off by the condition. COPD progresses by a worsening of either the bronchial blockages from mucus or the worsening of the damage to air sacs caused by emphysema.

Stage one of COPD is considered to be mild COPD. Mild COPD means that the person still has at least 80 percent of their lung capacity. Moderate COPD is the second stage of the disease and involves a lung capacity of 50 to 80 percent of full capacity. Severe COPD involves lung capacity percentages of 30 to 50 percent. And very severe COPD or end stage COPD involves any lung capacity less than 30 percent.

How Is COPD Treated?

The treatments used for COPD will depend on the stage of the disease a person is in. More frequent treatment and higher levels of care are required for later stages of COPD.

Firstly, if a person is still an active smoker, smoking needs to be stopped as soon as possible. Continued smoking will not only prevent treatments from working but will quickly worsen the condition.

Most people with COPD will use some type of inhaler at least once a day (usually more). Inhalers can contain a few different types of medication. Bronchodilators are medications designed to open up and widen the bronchial passages.

Steroid medications are also sometimes administered using inhalers. These medications are antiinflammatories designed to reduce swelling in the lungs and bronchial passages. Sometimes, combinations of these medications are administered at the same time. They may be given in inhalers or nebulizer treatments. 

Oxygen treatments are also common for people with COPD. Many people with COPD use oxygen therapy at night while they are sleeping to keep the oxygen properly circulating throughout their body at proper levels. As the condition progresses, oxygen therapy may be necessary during exercise or at all times.

Now that you know more about COPD and its treatments, you can get the care you need to manage your COPD.