COPD is an acronym that stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 20 years ago we used to call it emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, or smoker’s lung or asthmatic bronchitis. And there’s two components of COPD. One is that the airways—the breathing tubes—get progressively narrower, so patients feel as if they’re breathing through a straw. And the other component is the gas exchange units, which are called alveoli, get completely destroyed, and holes form in the lungs of COPD patients.
Loading the player...What is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)? Dr. Donald Sin, MD, FRCP, MPH, Respirologist, discusses what causes COPD .
Loading the player...How is COPD Diagnosed? Dr. Donald Sin, MD, FRCP, MPH, Respirologist talks about the symptoms of COPD and how it is diagnosed.
Loading the player...The Treatment of COPD Dr. Donald Sin, MD, FRCP, MPH, Respirologist, discusses treatment options for COPD.
Well COPD is an acronym that stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 20 years ago we used to call it emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, or smoker’s lung or asthmatic bronchitis. And there’s two components of COPD. One is that the airways—the breathing tubes—get progressively narrower, so patients feel as if they’re breathing through a straw. And the other component is the gas exchange units, which are called alveoli, get completely destroyed, and holes form in the lungs of COPD patients.
So together, they cause shortness of breath, cough and sputum production, and occasionally these things flare up, to the point that patients need hospitalization because they can’t breathe, or emergency visits to see your local family physician doctor.
We don’t know what causes COPD exactly, but we do know that it’s a complex interaction between your genes and the environment. So some of the environmental factors include cigarette smoking for 10, 20, 30 years. Increasingly we think that marijuana and e-cigarettes can also cause this. Air pollution—both indoor and outdoor—air pollution, poor nutrition, poor exercise and recurrent chest infections.
Your local family doctor can determine the genetic factors are still being worked on, but there are certain genetic mutations that you inherit from your parents that can drive COPD. The most common symptom is shortness of breath with exercise. So many patients don’t recognize that they have COPD, because they think that shortness of breath with exercise is part of the aging process, and they do less and less.
But shortness of breath with walking up a flight of stairs, or walking a block or two, is abnormal at any age, and should prompt patients to think about COPD. Shortness of breath is the most common symptom, and that can start very, very early, without patients actually knowing that that it’s abnormal. Some patients get cough, or sputum production, so occasionally patients come in and say “I’ve had this pesky cough for two years,” and that is clearly abnormal, and should prompt individuals to think about COPD.
So the definition of chronic is persistent, that it doesn’t clear up, and that there is no cure for it. And using that definition, COPD is a chronic disease. Once you get it, it cannot be cured, and without treatment, it will become progressive. In other words, it will get worse with time, maybe much worse, to the point where you may require oxygen 24 hours a day.
One of the reasons why patients with COPD get very sick is that they can get very heavy chest infections. For most seeing a local family doctor can help people without COPD that’ll be tantamount to having a cold, or maybe a mild flu. But with the same virus, patients with COPD can get very, very sick, to the point where they can’t breathe, or they have terrible fevers, or terrible myalgias—muscle aches; to the point where they can’t function and have to come into the emergency room. So it’s very, very important that patients recognize these symptoms early on—don’t dismiss it as a garden-variety cold, and seek medical attention.
We’ve covered some of the bad news about COPD: that it’s not curable, that it’s persistent and that it can be progressive. The good news is that there’s good treatment for COPD, so when you have these symptoms, seek medical attention with your local family doctor or someone you know, and get on therapy immediately, because that will modify the course of your COPD. Often seeing a local family physician or a physiotherapist in conjunction with a registered dietitian and athletic therapist is a great option to take control of this condition. Smart Food Now and exercise is also optominal for overall health.
Presenter: Dr. Donald Sin, Family Doctor, Vancouver, BC