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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for numerous lung diseases that affect breathing. It refers to lung diseases that are chronic, progressive and mostly irreversible. The most common lung diseases under COPD are emphysema (over-inflation of air sacs in lungs) and chronic bronchitis (inflamed bronchial tubes).

    COPD damages the airways that transport air to the lungs. The airway walls become narrowed and swollen, thereby obstructing airflow in and out of the lungs. Some forms of COPD can scar the lungs and lead to increased airway resistance, while others induce the excessive secretion of mucus that the lungs are not able to clear.

  • Risk factors of COPD include:

    • Air pollution from biomass fuel used for cooking or pollutants in the workplace, such as dust and chemicals, may also lead to disease progression
    • Smoking is the main risk factor in most COPD cases. It leads to damage and swelling of the lining of the lung airways
    • Those who lack a specific protein (alpha-1 antitrypsin),which protects the lung, have a greater risk of developing emphysema
    • Those who suffered from regular respiratory infections during childhood are more prone to developing COPD
  • Symptoms of COPD include:

    • Blue tinge to the skin due to reduced oxygen supply
    • Chronic coughing
    • Coughing up phlegm
    • Dizziness
    • Tiredness
    • Shortness of breath at rest in severe cases
    • Shortness of breath with exertion
    • Stiffness in chest
    • Swelling of feet, ankles and legs
    • Unintended weight loss
    • Wheezing
  • Lung damage caused by COPD is irreversible. However, treatment is available to ease symptoms and reduce damage to the lungs. A doctor will evaluate the condition and suggest suitable treatment options, such as:

    • Stop smoking, which is the most important measure to slow disease progression and increase the patient's rate of survival
    • Home oxygen therapy for severe COPD as blood oxygen can be constantly low. Oxygen is supplied by using an oxygen concentrator or oxygen tanks
    • Lung transplant for extreme COPD cases
    • Lung volume reduction surgery to remove the diseased part of the lung for certain patients (ie. those who suffer from emphysema)
    • Medication, such as inhalers and tablets to help open the airways, and antibiotics and steroids to reduce swelling of the airways
    • Pulmonary rehabilitation for those with severe COPD. This involves physical exercises, patient education, dietary guidance and psychological counselling
    • Yearly flu vaccines, such as vaccination against pneumococcus (most common cause of pneumonia)
    • Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
    • Frequent respiratory infections including pneumonia
    • Heart failure
    • Sleep disorders
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