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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Signs and treatment

The third leading cause of death internationally is estimated to be Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, known as COPD, which has plagued more and more people in recent years. And while it is a life-threatening disease, many patients do not even know they have it.

But what is COPD? It is an inflammatory disease of the lungs that is mainly due to smoking, as well as systematic exposure to congested environments where the presence of suspended particles or irritating gases is commonplace. With COPD, which occurs mainly in people over the age of 40, the airways or bronchi become narrower, as the thickness of their walls increases and they gradually lead to obstruction, resulting in lung dysfunction.

The symptoms of COPD

What are the signs that should alarm us? The main symptom of COPD is a persistent cough. In combination with the increased production of phlegm, wheezing and shortness of breath, first during exercise and then at rest, it creates the profile of the person suffering from COPD. Unfortunately, coughing and phlegm production are not enough symptoms to send the patient to the doctor’s office, as they are usually attributed by himself, especially when he is a chronic smoker, to smoking. Shortness of breath should occur in order to make noise and seek medical help. The problem is that at this stage COPD has come a long way.

In fact, at an advanced stage the patient is not even able to go to work, while he faces difficulties even in performing simple, daily activities at home. In severe cases, COPD can also occur with respiratory infections – which is why vaccination is required for the flu and now for Covid-19 – while it has been associated with vascular problems, sleep apnea and arrhythmias, with patients facing a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

Prevention and treatment

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can be both prevented and treated if patients are determined to change their lifestyle by adopting healthy habits, starting with smoking cessation.

In any case, at the first signs and especially in the persistent cough, a patient should hurry to his pulmonologist. The main test for the diagnosis of COPD is spirometry, while others may be required, including chest x-ray, low-radiation axial chest and oximetry.

Depending on the severity of the case, the treatment recommended is different. The goal is to control the symptoms and avoid any exacerbations that may be life-threatening for the patient.

In the early stages, smoking cessation is enough to improve the condition, while in later ones more advanced medication may be needed, which includes inhaled bronchodilators and steroids, bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory drugs. One of the treatment methods is pulmonary rehabilitation, in which the patient is called to improve his physical condition and learn to breathe properly in special centers. Depending on the severity of the condition, oxygen therapy may be required, especially when the patient has severe shortness of breath.

However, there are more invasive methods for very severe cases of COPD, such as endoscopic placement through a bronchoscope of intrapulmonary valves, mainly in patients with emphysema, but also the surgical removal of damaged areas of the lungs.

Do not ignore the first signs of COPD. Contact your pulmonologist to treat the disease in a timely and effective manner.