Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) is a potentially severe lung condition that may severely limit your ability to breathe as the disease progresses. Identifying the problem in the early stages will make it easier to slow the progression of COPD and can make standard treatments and lifestyle modifications more effective.
In the early stages of COPD, you may not experience any symptoms. When symptoms begin to appear, the most obvious problem may be shortness of breath. Breathlessness may occur during normal physical activities, which you may blame on getting older or being out of shape. As the disease progresses, you might notice it becomes harder to breathe even at rest. Other symptoms are a chronic cough that may be productive and becoming easily fatigued. Symptoms, especially in the early stages, can be consistent with asthma, allergies, or cardiovascular problems. Any respiratory symptoms, especially prolonged symptoms, should be discussed with your primary care doctor for further evaluation, testing, and possibly a referral to a specialist.
Blood work may be necessary simply to rule out other conditions that can mimic some of the symptoms seen in COPD. For example, anemia can cause tiredness and shortness of breath, especially when your red blood cell count is quite low. Also, an elevated white blood cell count could be an indication of infection. Your doctor will likely want you to have a chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, and pulmonary function testing services.
A chest x-ray can be used to determine if there are any masses in the lungs or indication that pneumonia is the problem. An electrocardiogram is used to evaluate the electrical activity of the heart and find arrhythmias or heart issues, which could explain shortness of breath. Pulmonary function testing helps diagnose a range of lung problems and identify exactly where the problem occurs. There is a difference between pulmonary issues, such as airway obstruction, decreased lung capacity, or a restriction in the surrounding tissues that prevents the lungs from expanding. The results of testing can better pinpoint the exact cause of lung diseases, such as COPD.
If you are diagnosed with COPD, fortunately there are many treatments available to slow disease progression and help you lead a full life. Any lifestyle factors that may have contributed to the development of COPD will need to be stopped, such as smoking or working in certain environments where you may inhale irritants or dangerous chemicals. There are several medications on the market, such as inhaled steroids, that are used to help keep your airway open and reduce inflammation. They can reduce the need for rescue inhalers or emergency treatments, especially when you have a sudden increase in symptoms. Some people participate in different forms of respiratory therapy, which may be used to teach you breathing techniques so you can breathe easier and are able to participate in normal activities with less breathlessness.
COPD is a serious chronic condition that can significantly impact your daily life. When the problem is caught early, many people are able to maintain an active lifestyle with a combination of daily treatments and lifestyle modification.