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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Symptoms, stages and treatment

  • Posted on- Aug 31, 2015
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COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a medical condition that affects the lungs. This condition is characterized by narrowing of the airways, thereby causing breathing difficulties. Eventually, the condition may affect exchange of gases inside the lungs. The condition termed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease denotes a group of lung diseases. Usually, a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema is detected. In some cases, chronic asthma may also be a contributory factor. One of the common causes of COPD is long-term smoking. It can also be caused by other airway irritants and in some uncommon cases, GERD or acid reflux disease may also cause this lung condition. Rarely, genetic disorders can also lead to COPD.

Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Symptoms and signs of COPD may vary with the type of underlying lung disease and the severity of the condition. According to some recent studies, symptoms of this condition are more severe in women, who are also more prone to develop this condition, as compared to men. In general, the symptoms include chronic cough, shortness of breath, tightness in chest, coughing up mucus (sometimes laced with blood), wheezing, weight loss, swelling of the ankle and feet, and barrel chest. The symptoms may worsen over time, and the affected person may experience periods of flare ups in between.

  • If COPD is caused by emphysema, the most prominent symptoms are wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, especially during physical activities. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath (at rest) may also be experienced.
  • If the underlying condition is chronic bronchitis, chronic cough is the most common symptom. The cough may last for a year or two, and the person may also develop emphysema. Other symptoms include yellow sputum in cough, frequent respiratory infections and shortness of breath (develops during the later stages).

If chronic asthmatic bronchitis is the reason for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the symptoms may include regular wheezing apart from cough, shortness of breath and recurrent respiratory infections.

Stages and Treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may also vary with the stages. The symptoms worsen as the disease progresses. It has been observed that, chronic cough is the most common symptom experienced by those in COPD stage I. The cough may be accompanied with production of sputum. During stage II, the cough may worsen, and sputum production may increase. The patient may develop shortness of breath, especially, during physical activities. Occasional flare ups of the symptoms may also occur. Stage III is considered a severe form of this disease, which can cause weight loss and recurrent flare ups, apart from worsening of cough and shortness of breath. Stage IV COPD can be life-threatening with severe symptoms, along with weight loss, change of skin colour (mainly lips, toes and fingers) to bluish tinge, edema, fullness of stomach, and confusion. Flare ups at this stage can be life-threatening. Even chronic respiratory failure may happen.

Presently, there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a progressive condition that causes irreparable damage to the lungs. COPD treatment is aimed at reducing the severity of the symptoms and frequency of flare ups and preventing complications. Medication, like bronchodilators, antibiotics and steroids, are used for treating COPD. In patients with severe emphysema, lung transplant or lung volume reduction surgery may also be recommended. COPD life expectancy is also based on the severity of the damage caused to the lungs. Early detection and treatment are always beneficial in case of COPD.