It is never good to start something with an obscure medical acronym; ‘Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease’ is however a bit of a mouthful and I suspect for many, even those who have the condition it doesn’t explain much more.
I’ll begin with a little history.
When I started-out as a doctor, the condition was COAD – substitute ‘Pulmonary’ for ‘Airways’ – admittedly this wasn’t much better although I think there used to be a sense that ‘Airways’ was a British thing and ‘Pulmonary’ American, although, as they say, it’s all Greek to me.
Prior to these abbreviations we have Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema. These I feel had a little more meaning and are still occasionally used today – Chronic Bronchitis being someone with a bad chest who on the whole, in addition to being breathless has a bad cough. The others, those with Emphysema, for all they are breathless, have less of a cough, or, if they do it isn’t productive.
What does all this mean?
Well, I am into my 6th paragraph and I haven’t mentioned smoking.
Yes. This is the number one cause of this condition, where a person’s lungs are damaged by the toxins in cigarette smoke. We seem to be more aware recently of the damaging effects of environmental pollution over recent years on the lungs.
I’ll stick with smoking as in South Yorkshire and Maltby in particular, this is the most common cause (made worse by time spent down the mines).
Smoking causes damage directly to the lungs, it also leads to an increased risk of infection which also causes damage; if you combine this with asthma, things can be really bad.
If I go back to the original title, COPD, the ‘obstructive’ part of the name refers to the problem people have with getting air out of the lungs.
I know this sounds a little upside-down, surely, people are breathless because they can’t get air in; well, if you can’t get air out, it’s hard to get air in. It is just that breathing out is more of a problem in COPD.
This is still possibly difficult for some to understand.
You can find-out what it is like to have COPD.
Get a straw and breathe through it for a few minutes.
Tiring and unpleasant?
This is what it is like to have COPD all the time. Make the straw even narrower by pinching it a little and that’s what it is like to have an infection or an exacerbation (worsening).
What is the single most important action a person with COPD can do to stop things getting worse?
Here it is… Yes… Stop smoking.
Many people will tell me, ‘I have smoked for 40 years, my chest is knackered, what is the point in stopping now?’
Well, all the research suggests that even after 40 years of smoking, if you stop you will slow down the rate at which things deteriorate.
There are actually five things our patients should do to help themselves and keep themselves well, especially if they have even mild COPD:
- Stop smoking – this can be very, very difficult. Support is available and many people need to try stopping several times before they succeed.
- Get vaccinated – yes, you read my last blog; no? Well, in addition to the flu vaccine, there is a vaccine against pneumonia. If you have not had it, see one of our team.
- Ask about Pulmonary Rehabilitation – this is support from a physiotherapist who can help you improve your symptoms of breathlessness and get you more active. Again, ask one of our doctors or nurses.
- If you have COPD make sure your doctor or nurse has provided you with a Personal Self-Management Plan – this is guidance on what to do if you become more short of breath or think you have an infection – do not wait until you are gasping to seek help! The sooner you can start treatment the better and this is the best way to avoid the risk of being admitted to hospital.
- Make sure any other health conditions are treated – this is diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, depression; all of these if an issue will make your COPD worse.
There is more to COPD than I have written here. This I think is a start.
You can find lots more information here.
Or you can ask your doctor or nurse.
Be well everyone.
Much of this blog was adapted from: