Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Treatment London

What are the symptoms of COPD?

Symptoms of COPD may start as mild and progressively become more severe. Being a ‘chronic’ disease, symptoms of COPD are likely to become constant and long-term however can be managed with a treatment plan.

At first, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Infrequent shortness of breath, particularly when you have exerted yourself e.g. after exercising or walking up a long flight of stairs
  • A wheezing sound when you breathe out
  • Excess mucus production
  • A constant (mild) cough/li>
  • A need to clear your throat often

As the disease progresses, the lungs can become more damaged in a number of ways. Your airways and tiny air sacs within the lungs can lose their elastic quality, the walls between them can be destroyed and the walls of your airways can become thick, enflamed and constricted, sometimes as a result of an overproduction of mucus.

The term emphysema refers to cases where the walls between air sacs are destroyed and they lose their shape, meaning they do not inflate and deflate as they should. Bronchitis refers to the airway lining becoming swollen and inflamed or an abnormal increase in mucus production.

Symptoms you may experience as these processes occur include:

  • Being out of breath even in the absence of exercise
  • Feeling a tightness if your chest
  • Fatigue
  • A constant (more severe) cough
  • Experiencing more frequent chest infections and colds
  • Swelling in the lower extremities*
  • Unexplained weight loss*

*These symptoms are more commonly experienced in later stages of the disease.

Risk factors for COPD

By far the most significant risk factor for developing COPD is smoking, and in some countries around the world the proportion of patients with COPD who are current smokers or ex-smokers is as high as 75%-90%.

Generally, COPD is a condition that affects the older population, and it is rare for someone under the age of 40 years old to be diagnosed.

Other risk factors include repeated exposure to irritants in the air, such as dusts, pollution, fumes and smoke. This can occur as a result of someone’s working environment, poor air cleanliness or by passive smoking where environmental tobacco smoke is inhaled by someone who is not the primary ‘active’ smoker.

In some cases, pre-existing health conditions can also increase the risk of developing COPD. Around 5% of those with COPD have alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare genetic disorder.

It’s important to tell your doctor if anyone in your family has COPD and if you have asthma, as these are also risk factors.

Treatment for COPD

As this condition obstructs the airways, there is a class of drugs called ‘bronchodilators’ which act to dilate the airways by making the muscles lining them relax. This allows air to travel through more easily and should ease both shortness of breath and chest tightness.

Another class of drug called glucocorticosteroids can be given to reduce the levels of inflammation in the air passages, again widening them for a clearer passage of air.

In more extreme circumstances, particularly if your COPD is exacerbated and you need to visit the hospital, oxygen therapy (supplementary oxygen through a mask) may be given to increase the levels of oxygen in your blood and support you to breathe more easily.

If the air spaces in your lungs become damaged to a point where bullae form (abnormal air spaces) which are causing serious problems and detriment to your quality of life, and other treatments are not effective, these can be removed by surgery. Severely damaged lung tissue can also be removed by surgery in extreme cases.

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