COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a very prevalent form of chronic inflammatory lung disease. In fact, it’s considered the world’s leading pulmonary disorder, affecting approximately 16 million Americans, according to research from Sciencedirect.com. COPD generally develops due to existing emphysema or chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma, in rarer cases, all which cause the chronic obstruction of airflow to the lungs. Once patients develop COPD, they also have a heightened risk of developing other lung and heart related conditions (i.e., lung cancer and cardiovascular disease).
The main risk factor for developing COPD is smoking cigarettes or pipe tobacco—with smokers making up roughly 30% of COPD cases. Additional risk factors include individuals who suffer long-term exposure to noxious fumes (i.e., poor ventilation), chemicals, and gases. Although COPD is treatable, the lung and heart damage caused by the disease is non-reversible. However, early detection paired with quitting smoking and adequate treatment can help control COPD symptoms, and significantly improve a patient’s quality of life.
Here are the most common symptoms of COPD:
1. Chronic congestion
The trouble with diagnosing COPD is that symptoms often don’t present until lung damage has progressed. However, a chronic cough that produces mucus and doesn’t subside for a 3 months is indicative of an underlying lung issue. Mucus is often most severe in the morning and can appear yellow, green, white, or thick and clear in color.
Low energy, or unexplained fatigue, can often be a sign of an underlying health issue.
3. Breathing difficulties
Troubles breathing, or feeling like you can’t get adequate oxygen into the lungs, can present in chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath, particularly when performing exercise.
4. Swelling in the feet
COPD can often cause chronic swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet due to pulmonary hypertension, or a condition known as “cor pulmonale”, which impedes the natural removal of excess fluids from the body via the liver and kidneys because of inadequate blood oxygen. pulmonary hypertension
5. Recurrent lung infections
COPD patients are often more susceptible to lung infections (i.e., pneumonia) due to narrowed airways and inflamed air sacs.
COPD can also cause lips and nails to take on a bluish hue due to inadequate oxygen in the blood. The bluish discoloration is known as cyanosis, a very serious condition that demands immediate emergency medical care.
7. Barrel chest
Advanced COPD often causes the chest to take on a bulging or “barrel” appearance due to the chronic inflammation and their inability to deflate normally.