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What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Understanding Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Our loved one with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease finds it difficult to breathe. And also fall frequent prey to respiratory infections. To understand COPD better, it is necessary that we first learn about its causes. Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of COPD. Our loved ones who smoke or have smoked in the past are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. Understanding COPD will give the caregivers a better chance to give appropriate caregiving services to their loved ones.
Causes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Passive smoker/exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to irritants such as fuel, smoke, or dust
- Family history of COPD
- Air pollution
Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Shortness of breath especially experienced after exercise
- Mild cough
- Recurrent cough
- Need to clear throat often
- A wheezing sound that occurs during breathing
- Tightness in the chest
- A cough that refuses to go away even with medications
- Chronic productive/nonproductive cough with clear, white, yellow, or greenish sputum
- The blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
- Frequently prone to infections
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling in the ankles, legs, or feet
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The Stages of COPD
Stage 1 COPD
This is where you want to catch the disease to be diagnosed. However, due to the lack of symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed until a later stage. Your goal should be to make healthy lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, avoiding lung irritants, improving your diet, and exercising more.
Stage 2 COPD (Moderate)
In Stage 2, airflow limitation worsens, and people tend to experience shortness of breath during exercise. This is the stage where people usually seek medical attention. Treatment options have become more intense and are more about managing symptoms rather than preventative maintenance.
Stage 3 COPD (Severe)
At stage 3 COPD, symptoms are far too debilitating to ignore any longer. Along with the common COPD symptoms, you may begin to experience more advanced symptoms that indicate your COPD is more severe. And according to GOLD guidelines. Your treatment options have become more intense, and you have to monitor your symptoms closely. Your doctor may try switching treatment methods up to see if there’s a more effective way to manage your COPD.
You might experience more advanced symptoms like morning headaches and edema. Supplemental oxygen is more than likely being used at night, possibly 24/7. Your goals at stage 3 should be to slow the progression of your disease through a strict treatment regimen and healthy lifestyle changes.
Stage 4 COPD (Very Severe)
It’s important to remember that everyone is different. You might not experience the same symptoms as the next person. Stage 4 COPD is the most severe. Your symptoms are extremely persistent, and they are difficult to manage. But the most difficult thing about stage 4 COPD is the stigma around it.
Do not let the fact that you have stage 4 COPD defines your life. With proper treatment adherence and a strong support system, you will be able to live a high-quality life.
Diagnosing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Test to confirm Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Lung (pulmonary) function tests.
Pulmonary function tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale. And if your lungs are delivering enough oxygen to your blood.
You are going to blow into a large tube connected to a small machine called a spirometer. This machine measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs. A Spirometry can detect COPD even before you have symptoms of the disease. It can also track the progression of the disease and watch how well treatment is working.
This can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. An X-ray can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure.
A scan can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD. CT scans can also screen for lung cancer.
Arterial blood gas analysis.
This blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood. Also, to show how well your lungs remove carbon dioxide.
These tests are not used to diagnose COPD. But they are to determine the cause of your symptoms or rule out other conditions. This test may help if you have a family history of COPD and develop COPD at a young age, such as under age 45.
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Tips for caregivers to manage their loved one with COPD
By educating yourself about COPD, you would be in a better position to help your loved one live the disease. Understanding the symptoms, its treatment regime, and what all happens in COPD. This can help you with better caregiving strategies. Here is a great article on How Can a Respiratory Patient Know When the Weather Is Dangerous.
Certain lifestyle changes become imperative. Since we know that COPD damages or weakens the lungs of your loved ones in the long run. As a caregiver, you can make your loved one follow the various lifestyle changes.
Stop smoking is a must.
Cigarette smoke will further damage the lungs. You must encourage as well as help your loved ones quit smoking.
Avoid chemical fumes and irritants.
Prevent your loved ones from exposure to chemical fumes, dust, and air pollution. These are lung irritants, which can further aggravate the disease.
Exercise is your way to fit lungs.
COPD patients are also expected to practice mild exercises daily. Breathing exercises are a great way to bring back the lung’s lost capacity slowly. So, your role as a caregiver would be to ensure that your loved ones practice at least 15 – 20 minutes of mild exercise.
A nutritious diet is a must.
Ensure that your loved one gets their daily dose of a nutritious diet. Avoid all processed foods as much as possible. These have lots of salt, which increases the chances of water retention. Patients with COPD can develop water retention; they would experience more breathing-related difficulties. Constipation is one of the major issues in the elderly. And the condition can worsen in people who are also suffering from COPD. Therefore, it would be best to avoid simple carbohydrates. And focus more on high fiber foods to avoid constipation and keep their gut in a healthy state. A balanced diet paves the way for better immunity, which helps in warding off infections.
Take medications on time.
Do not forget to give your loved ones their medications on time. With COPD, it becomes vital to give them their medications on time. Also, keep their inhalers handy. So that they can quickly grab these whenever they feel shortness of breath. This will happen often.
Prepare for emergencies
Being prepared for emergencies can help save many lives. Keep a close watch on the nature of the symptoms of your loved ones. A sudden change in any symptoms or a sudden onset of shortness of breath. This is when breathing refuses to ease, even with inhalers. Treat this as an emergency and contact a doctor immediately.