Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD is a chronic lung disease that progressively restricts airflow in and out of the lungs. Last time here at CGE, we discussed COPD and how changing your eating habits to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods can help. This week I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the disease, its four stages and some treatments/breathing exercises that may be helpful to those who suffer from it. If you or anyone in your family or friend group suffers from this disease, hopefully this summary of information can be helpful.

There are four stages of COPD and sometimes, the typical symptoms of shortness of breath, coughing, etc., may go unnoticed until the disease is in a later stage. If a patient can be diagnosed earlier however, the chances are better for slowing the progression of the disease and managing the symptoms. Because of this, the GOLD System was developed. The system which was created by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, is useful for determining which treatment will provide the best results depending upon the stage of the disease.

4 stages

Stage 1 – Mild:

*At this stage, you would probably write your symptoms off as a cold, allergies, etc.

  • Symptoms may hardly be noticeable at this stage
  • Cough exacerbated by smoke
  • Cough that produces excessive amounts of phlegm

Treatment at this stage is more proactive than reactive. Lifestyle changes such as being conscious of your environment (avoiding cigarette smoke, pollen, perfumes, etc.), opting for a healthy diet and a consistent exercise routine could significantly improve your health.

Stage 2 – Moderate:

*At this stage, symptoms become persistent to the point of demanding your attention.

  • Stage 1 symptoms begin to worsen
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Phlegm from cough becomes harder to expel
  • Wheezing may increase
  • Airways may become more constricted due to inflammation
  • Fatigue due to your lungs working overtime

Treatment for this stage usually consists of a prescribed inhaler because your lungs are functioning at 50-79 percent of their normal lung capacity. In the event that you develop a respiratory infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics in order to fight the infection and hopefully prevent a hospital visit.

Stage 3 – Severe:

*At this stage, your lungs are only functioning at 30-49 percent of their normal lung capacity.

  • Inability to breathe deeply
  • Edema (swelling of the feet or ankles)
  • Decreased mental alertness
  • Morning headaches due to increased levels of carbon monoxide in the body
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing
  • Mental confusion

Treatment at this stage is more serious because of the severity of the disease. These treatments include anything from steroid inhalers to supplemental oxygen. However, efforts to exercise and eat healthier should definitely be continued.

Stage 4 – Very Severe:

*This stage includes all of the previous symptoms mentioned in stages 1-3 worsened, especially during rest. While this stage is considered, “end-stage COPD,” people go on to live years with symptoms as long as they implement the proper lifestyle changes.

  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Crackling sounds when inhaling
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Respiratory failure

Treatment for this final stage may include all treatments from previous stages, including supplemental oxygen. Some patients may opt for lung volume reduction surgery during which 30 percent of diseased tissue is removed from the lungs. A lung transplant is also a last resort option at this stage.

Though COPD can be severe and debilitating, causing physical and mental anguish, the disease does not have to define you. With the proper lifestyle changes and treatments implemented by your healthcare provider, you can still go on to live a full, healthy life.

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