Our lungs are like balloons. When we’re healthy, the lungs (balloons) expand when we breathe in and they contract when we breathe out. Certain conditions may affect how these balloons we call our lungs work. COPD is one of them. In this instance, the lungs are more like the balloon that has been expanded dramatically and then released, resulting in a lax, loose lining. When it comes to the lungs, this loss of elasticity limits air flow, which can cause ongoing physical and emotional stress.
COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a potentially serious condition characterized by persistent breathing difficulty. People tend to lump various symptoms into this umbrella diagnoses when there are actually two types of COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Some people have various characteristics of each at the same time. COPD affects not only the lungs but the airways as well. WIth this disease being one of the leading causes of health-related death in our country, we find it important to increase awareness among those who may be affected. We’ll offer some facts here.
COPD is NOT Just a Smoker’s Disease
Because smokers are commonly diagnosed with COPD, many people hear this term and assume it is a “smoker’s disease.” That is not true and could be detrimental to those who are unknowingly at risk. In addition to being a smoker, factors that can contribute to COPD include:
- Environmental factors, including secondhand smoke.
- Recurrent lung or respiratory infections.
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited condition that affects the liver and the lungs.
COPD Doesn’t Just Affect the Lungs
While COPD conditions (emphysema and bronchitis) affect lung tissue, the ramifications of these conditions can occur elsewhere in the body. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease restricts the amount of oxygen delivered to all areas of the body. As a result, the heart has to work harder to get oxygen out to all organs and tissues. The vascular system suffers extraordinary stress having to do this, which increases the risk of heart disease.
The toll that COPD has is not only physical but also emotional for many people. Persistent coughing and wheezing can feel embarrassing and stressful. Many people with COPD retreat into a life of relative (or severe) isolation. Without sufficient human connection, depression often occurs.
There are many truths about COPD that we want people to know. In addition to what we’ve shared, we want people to know that not everyone who is diagnosed with COPD has to rely on oxygen for the rest of their life. There are multiple ways to manage symptoms, including prescribed inhalers, regular exercise, and supplement oxygen therapy. Finally, we want people with symptoms of COPD to know there is hope. Many COPD patients live long, joyful lives with help from their medical management team.