The most common cause for COPD is tobacco smoking. It can also be caused by consistent inhalation of fumes from heating and cooking in homes that are poorly ventilated. Approximately 20 percent of all chronic smokers end up developing COPD, though some smokers develop other types of lung conditions instead. COPD describes a lung obstruction or difficulty moving air through airways. The cause of COPD, therefore, will differ from person to person depending on what type of underlying condition they develop and from what cause. The most common risk factors associated with the development of COPD include: exposure to smoke from tobacco cigarettes, people who smoke while having asthma, age, genetics and occupational exposure to chemicals, dust and other irritants.
Untreated COPD can lead to a number of serious complications, making it essential that someone with symptoms of it see a physician as soon as possible. Some of the most common complications associated with untreated or mistreated COPD include: depression, lung cancer, high blood pressure, problems with heart health and serious respiratory infections. For someone who has it, a cold can easily become bronchitis or pneumonia, and both can be potentially life-threatening in some situations.
The symptoms associated with COPD do not typically make themselves apparent until there has already been some significant lung damage. These symptoms will typically worsen over time. The most common symptoms of COPD are a cough that lasts for three months or more per year, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, wheezing, chronic cough with colored sputum, cyanosis of the lips or fingernail beds, chronic respiratory infections, lack of energy, weight loss without intention and excess mucus in the lungs. People that have COPD will experience exacerbations or episodes where their symptoms become significantly worse for a few days before going back to normal.
It is unfortunately misdiagnosed by many physicians, so it can be diagnosed in patients who do not actually have it. People who do show symptoms can visit a physician to talk about pulmonary function tests, CT scans, chest x-rays and arterial blood gas analyses, which will all provide clues as to the cause for the symptoms. Many people do not get a proper diagnosis until the condition has worsened considerably, which is why it is so essential to work with a physician early in order to get the right diagnosis.
A COPD diagnosis does not mean that there is a shortage of therapy solutions. Effective therapy is available for all stages of COPD which will, at the very least, alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. This should start with cessation of smoking followed by the prescription of a medication to treat the symptoms of the breathing issues. These medications can include: inhaled steroids, broncho-dilators, combination inhalers, oral steroids, Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, antibiotics and theophylline. Lung therapies such as pulmonary rehabilitation programs and oxygen therapy are also used.