What it is and how it’s caused
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the umbrella term given to a number of serious conditions attributed to the lungs (similar to how dementia is a number of conditions).
This chronic condition usually effects middle-aged or older people who have also smoked for a significant part of their lives. The condition is primarily made up of two specific lung conditions:
Emphysema – a disease that is caused by damage to the air sacs within the lungs
Chronic Bronchitis – inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs
These two conditions are grouped together as they often present themselves with similar symptoms:
The primary cause of COPD is long-term exposure of the lungs to harmful substances or chemicals – this usually comes in the form of smoking, however it can also be caused by harmful substances in the air such as asbestos, flour dust, silica dust or welding fumes, or even coal dust. The above symptoms can flare up and settle down over time, but should not be simply ignored as it’s common for COPD to do so a few times a year (often during winter).
Other conditions that could support a diagnosis of advanced stage COPD are:
a significant weight loss
fatigue or long term tiredness
consistent chest pain and/or coughing up blood
How it’s diagnosed
If you have any of the above symptoms in conjunction then it’s important that you see a doctor, this is especially true if you smoke or are over 35. Unfortunately these symptoms could also be the result of other conditions such as bronchiectasis or even heart failure.
If you choose to go to a health centre, as opposed to an NHS hospital, then you should not have to pay for the cost of a private CT scan as a diagnosis should be able to be determined from a simple breathing test. Otherwise, a GP may simply inquire about your symptoms, ask you about your family history, study your breathing with a stethoscope or ask you if you smoke to determine your condition.
Treatment and management is currently the only response to a COPD diagnosis as no cure has been found yet.
There are a number of things that you can do to slow the condition:
As there is no cure as of yet for COPD the onus for those with this condition should be primarily on maintaining good health, and adopting a number of good habits that will serve to lengthen your life and reduce the impact that the symptoms have on your day-to-day existence.
Once you have been diagnosed with this condition your doctor should give you advice on how to better look after yourself – here are a few good places to start: