Maybe it began with a simple cough, and then over time, it became more difficult for you to breathe. You thought all of your breathing problems were just a consequence of getting older, but your doctor has just told you that you have COPD. What does this confusing acronym mean, and what does having this disease mean for your health?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
For the average person, simply knowing what COPD stands for doesn’t really provide any insight into what the condition actually is. In reality, the term encompasses a number of progressive diseases relating to the lungs including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, non-reversible asthma, and certain types of bronchiectasis.
In addition, all sufferers are experiencing some type of blockage in their lungs, which makes it difficult to breathe. Although the cause of the blockage can differ depending on what type of COPD you have (e.g., emphysema or bronchitis). There are many ways to live a healthy life with COPD, it just takes a bit more attention and preparation when it comes to daily tasks.
What are the Causes?
The truth is that most people who have the disease were smokers, and while not everyone who smokes gets COPD, about 90% of sufferers were smokers or are still smoking. Other causes of include being exposed to fumes and other irritants that can be found in certain work environments (e.g., being a firefighter). Genetics also plays a role but isn’t a direct cause of COPD.
What are the Symptoms?
Although difficulty breathing is the most common symptom, there are some other symptoms that can be early warning signs of COPD. If you do experience any of these symptoms, you should book an appointment with your doctor to rule out this disease and get on track to finding treatment:
- Frequent Coughing
- Tightness in the Chest
- Feeling Breathless
If you don’t have COPD, and you’re wondering what living with the disease feels like, try the following exercise. Take a deep breath, and then only exhale halfway. Then take another full breath, but only exhale halfway again. Keep repeating this pattern, and you’ll soon feel breathless as breathing becomes extremely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this is what sufferers must deal with every day.
Stages of COPD
COPD is also a progressive condition, which means it gets worse with time. In general, there are four stages ranging from mild to very severe. If you have been recently diagnosed with Stage 1 COPD then you may experience some mild difficulty breathing and a chronic cough with phlegm. But as the condition progresses, sufferers will have greater difficulty breathing.
Those experiencing more severe stages of the disease will find that they need to use oxygen therapy to help them breathe. Some people may need additional oxygen all the time, while others may only need it at certain times, like when performing a more strenuous activity. Using an oxygen concentrator or a portable oxygen concentrator can be essential for treatment and might actually get you back to doing the things you love that you had been missing out on before!
Overall, what you need to remember about COPD is that it is an umbrella term for a number of progressive lung conditions that result in difficulty breathing. However, living with COPD doesn’t have to feel like a prison sentence. Using oxygen therapy can be the key to living a full and enjoyable life again.