If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, you’ll know just how uncomfortable it is to feel so often out of breath. There is unfortunately no cure, but our GPs at London Doctors Clinic are able to advise on how to improve your symptoms – for example, by remaining active!
What Is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, often abbreviated to COPD, is the umbrella term used to describe a group of lung diseases that make it difficult to breathe.
The diseases that combine to make the condition of COPD are:
- Emphysema: This occurs when the walls of many of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged, causing them to become misshapen, floppy, and malfunctioning. If this happens, the amount of gas (oxygen which is breathed in, and carbon dioxide which is breathed out) exchanged in the lungs is reduced.
- Bronchitis: This results from constant irritation and inflammation of the lining of the airways in the lungs. Lots of thick mucus forms in the airways, making it hard to breathe.
COPD is a major cause of disability in the UK, and it is estimated that approximately 3 million people are living with COPD at any time. Many more people may have COPD without knowing it, as the disease is often not diagnosed until it’s later stages.
COPD Risk Factors
A risk factor is something that makes it more likely that a person will develop a condition. The biggest risk factor for COPD is smoking, and the risk of you developing the disease increases if you are (or have been) a heavy smoker, or have smoked for a long time. You are also more likely to develop COPD if you are male, or of an older age. Some cases of COPD are caused by exposure to harmful substances (for example, breathing in harmful dust or fumes), and a small number of cases are due to a rare genetic illness which makes a person more vulnerable to developing the disease.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD
- Daily cough and mucus production, especially in the morning. Mucus may be clear, white, yellow or green in colour
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
- Chest tightness
- Blueness of the lips or fingernails
- Frequent chest infections
- Lack of energy
- Unintended weight loss
- Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
When To Seek Medical Advice
Visit your doctors surgery if you have ongoing symptoms of COPD, especially if you are over age 35 or a smoker. Your GP will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing, and explore your risk factors for COPD. Your chest will be examined and you may have some blood tests taken for analysis. It is likely a test called a Spirometry will be performed to check how well your lungs are functioning. A chest x-ray may be arranged to rule out causes of your symptoms other than COPD.
Complications of COPD
People with COPD often find that they experience more infections than other people, including colds, flu and pneumonia. Those with COPD are at higher risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer, but the risk of these illnesses can be reduced if you stop smoking. COPD may also cause high blood pressure in the lungs, known as pulmonary hypertension.
Having a long term illness can be tough and isolating, and this can have a direct impact on your mood, leaving people with COPD at risk of depression. However, a diagnosis of COPD doesn’t have to mean the end of your life as you know it, there are many ways to ensure that you can still live a happy, fulfilled life even with this illness.
COPD is a progressive disease (it gets worse as time goes on), and doctors don’t currently know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs, so there is no cure for the illness. However, a combination of treatment options and lifestyle changes can help you feel much better, stay more active and slow the progression of the disease.
Lifestyle changes to help you feel better include:
- Stopping smoking – this is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself feel better
- Eat a healthy diet – maintaining a normal weight for your height is important for overall health and energy
- Stay as active as your disease allows you to be
- Learn all you can about COPD
- Mind your mood – take support from family and friends
- Medications – The medicines used to treat COPD can be long-acting to help prevent symptoms or short-acting to help relieve them. The main medicines are bronchodilators (these open and relax your airways) in the form of inhalers, Phosphodiesterase -4 inhibitors (an anti-inflammatory medication to prevent flare-ups), and steroids. If your COPD is more severe, or you experience frequent flare-ups, your Doctor may prescribe a combination of medicines that includes a bronchodilator and an inhaled steroid (which helps to reduce inflammation).
- Oxygen therapy – this involves breathing oxygen through a face mask or a small tube that fits in your nostril, and this can be done in hospital or at home
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – a specialised programme of education and exercise
- Lung transplant – this is only an option for a very small number of people
Oxygen therapy can be used to treat COPD
For more tips as to how to manage your COPD, check out some of the relevant links in this article, or book in online for a private GP consultation at any of our eight (soon to be nine, with the opening of our private GP in Paddington) London clinics. As always, if you’re searching for a “doctor near me” and need a same day or future appointment, London Doctors Clinic is here for you!
By Melissa Dillon