As the fifth leading killer worldwide and the fourth leading killer in the US, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is a set of conditions affecting a growing percentage of the population. The growth in the number of people with this condition is advancing so quickly that in 10 years the condition could be the third deadliest in the world. It also happens to be the top disability for which people miss work.
COPD, often called "smoker's lung" includes a number of conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema that involve inflammation and damage to the large and small airways in the lungs. As the common name might suggest, those with COPD are most usually smokers or former smokers and over the age of 40. Unlike asthma in which the airways temporarily constrict based on some irritation, the airways of those with COPD are permanently narrowed and are much more difficult to open up.
When COPD is detected in its early stages where the symptoms are mild, patients can usually recover by quitting smoking. However, based on the difficulty in quitting smoking and an estimate that 25% to 50% of those with COPD won't be diagnosed with the condition, there are still many people who will reach the more advanced and complicated stages. These people will suffer from flare-ups in which shortness of breath, a harsh, persistent cough, and continual spitting up of mucus are common. Many will show a big barrel shaped chest caused because their lungs are expanded all the time to provide enough oxygen.
While called "smoker's lung", because those who smoke have roughly 12 times the chance of dying from COPD than nonsmokers, the condition only affects 25% of smokers. The reason for this has recently been revealed to be genetic, so that only those people with specific genes are susceptible to the condition. Current research also seems to indicate that once the condition reaches a certain stage, the immune system actually contributes to further damage by attacking the lung itself thinking that the continually inflamed cells need to be removed.
At the present time, there is no cure for COPD and all treatments are intended simply to slow the rate at which the condition progresses or to alleviate some of the symptoms. Common treatments involve inhalers or pills to open the airways or reduce inflammation. Antibiotics are often and frequently given, not to treat the condition, but to treat the lung infections that are common to those with COPD. In the more advanced cases, patients are often placed on oxygen for 15 to 20 hours a day to aid in breathing.
Recently, research has revealed two factors that a patient can influence in order to possibly reduce the effects of the disease. The first finding is that broccoli contributes to the maintenance of antioxidants in the lungs that are responsible for protecting the lungs against damage from inflammation so a change in diet to eat more of this vegetable is a benefit. The second and more important finding is that supervised exercise can actually improve the lung function of those with COPD and reduce the frequency at which sufferers feel out of breath.
Without a cure for COPD yet on the horizon, those currently suffering with the condition and those with a risk due to their genetics must take great care to maximize their own health. The need to stop smoking or never start cannot be overemphasized to avoid that long-term feeling of suffocation associated with COPD. As one of the most preventable ailments and yet one that is accumulating an increasing number of casualties, this condition really needs its wind knocked out.