The Early Warning Signs of COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a fast moving lung condition that can get worse over time. These are the early warning signs you should not ignore.
Some of the first indicators of COPD include coughing, abnormally high mucus levels, shortness of breath, wheezing and fatigue.
COPD is a chronic lung condition that obstructs a person’s airways and makes it hard for them to breathe. COPD often gets worse over time, especially if you do not catch it early and seek appropriate treatment. It can even be a life threatening condition if no treatment options are sought.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 251 million people worldwide suffer from COPD. Over 3 million deaths per year can be attributed to COPD related complications.
Despite the fact there is no cure for COPD, proper treatment can relieve symptoms, reduce the likelihood of mortality and improve a patient’s quality of life.
Early warning signs & symptoms
In its early stages, COPD may not cause any symptoms or they might be so gentle that the individual doesn’t notice them.
The symptoms and seriousness of COPD can likewise change from individual to individual. Since the disease is dynamic, symptoms often get more severe over time.
The early indicators and symptoms are:
A relentless cough is often one of the first symptoms of COPD. An individual may encounter a nonstop cough that seems to last forever. Doctors consider a cough that goes on for longer than two months to be chronic.
Coughing is a defensive act that occurs because the body is exposed to irritants like smoke or pollution and those irritants find their way into the lungs. Coughing is also used to expel phlegm from the lungs.
If a person has an ongoing cough that just won’t stop, then it’s a sign they have a more serious issue with their lungs.
Excessive mucus production
When the body produces too much phlegm and mucus it’s often an early sign of COPD. The purpose of mucus is to keep the airways moist and block germs and respiratory irritants before they make their way to the lungs.
When someone breathes in an irritant the body creates more mucus, which can cause someone to cough. The irritation caused by smoking is a common cause of excess mucus production.
Common lung irritants other than smoking include:
- chemical fumes, paint fumes and inhaling cleaning products
- pollution such as vehicle exhaust
- perfume, cologne, hairspray and other aerosol cans
Shortness of breath
Restricted air passages make it harder for someone to breathe, which leads to a shortness of breath. This is among the most common symptoms of COPD.
Many people feel short of breathe after they exercise. However, if these feeling persists at all times it could be the sign of an underlying health condition. Some people adapt to their breathing challenges by exercising less, which can lead to them becoming less healthy.
The extra energy someone with COPD has to exert to breathe normally can leave them feeling constantly tired and winded.
More signs of COPD
Due to their weak lungs, people with COPD are prone to chest infections like the flu, pneumonia and common colds.
Other sings of COPD are:
- wheezing and loud breathing
- soreness in the chest
- coughing up blood
- tightness in the chest
- unexpected weight loss
- swollen lower legs
COPD is a disease that is known to flare up from time to time. This is when symptoms get more severe for a period. These flare ups are triggered by environmental factors, exposure to cigarettes, colds and more.
When to see a physician
An individual who encounters any of the above symptoms should see a specialist as soon as possible. Only a doctor can determine whether these symptoms are indeed COPD or a sign of another ailment.
The reason why it’s important to identify COPD so early is because early treatment will slow the progression of COPD, limiting the chances of it becoming a life threatening condition.
When you visit a specialist you will begin by offering some information about your symptoms and clinical history, such as whether or not you have a history of smoking or working in an environment with a lot of lung irritants.
The physician will also conduct a physical to check for wheezing or other indications of lung issues.
A doctor is likely to order additional tests such as:
- Spirometry. A patient breathes into a tube connected to a spirometer. The spirometer reads how well a person’s lungs are working. Before the exam, the doctor will have the patient inhale a bronchodilator, which is a type of medicine that opens up the lungs.
- Chest X-ray. An x-ray will allow a doctor to view inside a person’s chest to look for symptoms of COPD.
- Blood test. The doctor will order blood work to check oxygen levels within the bloodstream.
What exactly is COPD?
COPD is the catch-all term for several lung diseases that tend to get more severe over time. These include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The lungs comprise of several airways that branch into even smaller airways. These airways end at small air sacs that inflate when you breathe in and deflate when you breathe out.
When you inhale, oxygen flows down these airways and through the sacs into the bloodstream. When you exhale, CO2 exits the bloodstream and travels out through the sacs and airways.
The airways are blocked in people with COPD. Chronic inflammation makes it more difficult to breathe by restricting the lungs. Blockages are caused from excessive mucus production and the sacs become damaged.
Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products is the leading cause of COPD. Approximately 75% of those with COPD currently smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to second hand smoke can have a similar effect of causing COPD to develop.
Genetics also increases the risk of COPD. In particular, people with a lack of protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin are more prone to develop COPD. This risk is further increased if they have a history of smoking or being exposed to lung irritants.
Individuals aged 40 years or older are at the greatest risk of developing COPD.
COPD is a common condition that smokers and ex-smokers need to be aware of. Please don’t mistake the symptoms for being a normal part of aging. If you ignore COPD symptoms for too long the treatments will be less effective.
Individuals with severe COPD often have a hard time completing daily tasks such as walking, going up the stairs or cleaning around the house. Experiencing a COPD flare up can make things even worse and people find themselves unable to accomplish the tasks they used to do with ease.
While COPD does not have a cure, catching the disease early can lead to much more effective treatment options. This will improve someone’s quality of life outlook. Simple lifestyle changes can reduce symptoms and slow down the rate at which COPD symptoms develop.