Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has the job of acting as a catch-all term for bronchitis, emphysema and in some cases, chronic asthma, of which are all directly associated with airflow obstruction. While there is no cure for COPD, the goal is to slow the progression of the disease as much as possible to maintain quality of life and keep patients from getting worse.
Listed as the third leading cause of death in the United States, researchers and professionals have created an acronym to help COPD sufferers remember what factors affect their symptoms and quality of life.
“C” Is for Cigarettes
Millions of Americans live with the symptoms of COPD and may not even know they have it. However, for the more than 15 million Americans already diagnosed, it is important to know and understand the effects that smoking has on the body.
More than 80 percent of COPD patients are current or former smokers. While not all patients fall into this category, smoking is directly associated with increased exacerbations and a higher frequency for complications during treatment.
“O” is for Oxygen
As previously mentioned, COPD directly affects the airflow to the lungs, making it very difficult to breathe. While many COPD patients manage without oxygen therapy, or only use it as needed, others with severe COPD rely more heavily on oxygen.
Some sufferers must adjust travel arrangements or even avoid travel altogether in order to account for their oxygen tanks or the location they are traveling to.
If you are reliant on supplemental oxygen, physicians want you to know what options are available. Pressurized tanks are good for those less apt to travel. For those who do travel, favorable options include liquid oxygen, a portable solution and easily stowed and oxygen concentrators, which are also portable but require a constant source of electricity.
“P” is for Progressive
For sufferers of COPD, the difficulty of breathing is described as the equivalent of plugging your nose and then putting a straw in your mouth. The lungs of someone who has been diagnosed have lost their elasticity, making it difficult for them to expand and release carbon dioxide causing the airways to become “damaged, thick and inflamed.”
COPD is a slow moving disease and many of those diagnosed have no signs or symptoms until they have reached the moderate-to-severe phase. For example, for someone who starts smoking as a teen and persists into adulthood, damage can go on quietly for years. “Because you have two lungs and a lot of lung reserve, most lung diseases really don’t cause significant problems or symptoms until someone has lost 50 or 60 percent of their lung function,” according to Andrew Ries, a professor of family medicine and preventive medicine at the University of California–San Diego.
Ries suggests looking for signs and symptoms of breathlessness. Early prevention is often times the best way to slow the progression of COPD.
“D” is for Dealing With It
To some a COPD diagnoses seems bleak, but people living with COPD do have options including “taking prescription medications, keeping up with treatments, building endurance through exercise, accepting limitations and making adaptations in their homes, like rearranging kitchens so they can sit while preparing food.”
If none of these work, there are several other options including surgeries and physical therapies to increase lung capacity. If you are able to “build fitness and endurance” it is possible to reduce the likelihood of becoming sedentary, says Ries.