COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a condition of the bronchial tree of the lungs. It is the third leading cause of death in the US, with more than 130,000 men and women dying from the disease each year (Centers For Disease Control).
The vast majority of cases of COPD come from smoking. Smoking leads to inflammation of the bronchial tree, excessive mucus secretion, and damage to the bronchial tree. COPD is relatively common, affecting more than 11 million adults over the age of 18 (American Lung Association).
About twice that many have impairment of lung function suggestive of early lung disease or impending COPD. In spite of many measures taken by the government and other health agencies to curb the incidence of smoking, there are still many Americans who choose to smoke and many who suffer from COPD down the line.
Surprisingly, women suffer from COPD more than men do. This is partly because tobacco companies campaign for more women to smoke and because women use smoking to keep their weight down. Even so, the Centers For Disease Control reports that more than 64,000 males die from COPD each year, and many men are smoking despite the warnings that COPD is a common complication of smoking.
The prevalence of this disease varies according to where you live in the US. States like Washington and Minnesota have the least cases of COPD at 4% of the population.
States like Alabama and Kentucky see counts at 9% of the population. 92% of all cases of COPD are diagnosed in men and women over the age of 45.
Because there is a lag time between the start of smoking and getting COPD, efforts at smoking prevention need to be targeted at young people, as early as the early teens.
Range Of COPD
• Some people with COPD have a “dry” form of the disease, with symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath, especially on exertion. This is often referred to as emphysema.
• Others have a “wetter” form of the disease, with symptoms of cough and an increase in thick mucus production. This is often called chronic bronchitis.
Women have twice the likelihood of being diagnosed with chronic bronchitis when compared to men. More than 6.8 million women or 56.7 out of a thousand people have COPD, whereas less than half of that number is men.
Men historically have a higher rate of emphysema as opposed to chronic bronchitis but now women are getting emphysema at high enough rates to exceed men.
The main cause of COPD is smoking, with 80% of COPD patients who die have their disease caused by smoking. Men are twelve times as likely to die from emphysema if they smoke as opposed to those who never smoked.
Other causes of emphysema include:
• Air pollution
• Secondhand smoke
• Occupational chemicals
• Occupational dust
• History of childhood lung infections
• Low socioeconomic status
• Alpha antitrypsin deficiency disease—this is an inherited condition in which the person lacks a protein called alpha 1 antitrypsin or alpha 1 protease inhibitor. These are lung protectants that, when absent, contribute to about 2-3% of cases of emphysema per year in the US. It affects more people from Northern European descent than other races and is passed as an autosomal recessive disease onto their children.
There are about 116 million carriers of the disease throughout the world. Smoking exacerbates their condition and they often get the disease under the age of 40.
Most men with COPD do not develop symptoms until their lungs are clearly damaged. The symptoms tend to worsen over time, especially when a man fails to stop smoking.
The main symptoms of COPD include:
• Chronic cough/increased sputum production
• Shortness of breath with exertion
• Tightness in the chest
• Clearing your throat of phlegm every morning
• Clear, yellow, white, or green sputum
• Cyanosis or bluish discoloration, especially around the lips or nailbeds
• Decreased energy levels
• Recurrent respiratory infections
• Weight loss, particularly when the disease is late in its progression
• Varying amount of symptoms with exacerbations and improvements coming over time. An exacerbation of COPD can last for several days and may mean a hospitalization for respiratory treatments.
The first thing to do in order to treat COPD is to stop smoking. Other treatments include the use of beta-agonist bronchial dilators that help with wheezing and steroid inhalers to decrease the inflammation of the bronchial tree. Oral or injectable steroids are used for exacerbations of COPD and oxygen is a common treatment of the shortness of breath caused by the disease.
Impact Of COPD
COPD can affect a man’s ability to work. This is true in about half of all cases, where a man is limited in his ability to find work because of COPD.
The American Lung Association reports that normal physical exertion becomes difficult in 70% of cases. About 56% of men are unable to do household chores because of COPD and half of all men with COPD have limitations in social activities, sleeping, and family activities.
The total cost to the US in the treatment of COPD is about $50 billion USD. About $30 billion USD are used to treat the disorder while the rest of the money is spend on direct and indirect morbidity and mortality costs.
So, are you still smoking?