Haims: The devastating cost of COPD
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a disease that debilitates and kills. In 2019, COPD took the lives of an estimated 3.2 million people in the United States. According to the World Economic Forum, it is “estimated that the global costs of COPD will reach $50 trillion a year by 2030, making it more costly than cardiovascular disease.”
There are two types of COPD: Emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both block airflow and make breathing difficult. Emphysema is a chronic lung condition in which the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) become damaged and reduce respiratory functions. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing passages in the lungs that branch off from the windpipe. When the inflammation persists for a long periods of time, people often suffer from increased production of mucus and persistent coughs.
Unfortunately, COPD is often misdiagnosed. Based on incorrect clinical presentations, asthma, ischaemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, bronchiectasis and tuberculosis are frequently diagnosed. When this occurs, inappropriate treatments are prescribed and the disease progresses.
The leading and most frequently used test for diagnosing COPD is a spirometry test. The test is frequently offered within a medical office and measures how much air you can breathe in and out of your lungs, as well as how easily and fast you can the blow the air out of your lungs.
Other tests include a bronchodilator reversibility test, blood tests, and genetic tests. The bronchodilator reversibility test combines the spirometry test with medicines that open the airways called bronchodilators. After establishing a baseline with the spirometry test, a patient is given a bronchodilator to see if lung function gets better with medication, and if so, by how much.
The blood test for COPD is an arterial blood gas test. This measures the amount of oxygen in the blood and provides doctors with insight as to how well oxygen and carbon dioxide are moving throughout the body. The test results provide doctors with an indication of how well the lungs are working and offer an indication if oxygen therapy may be needed.
Genetic testing checks for levels of a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin found in the lungs and the bloodstream. The AAT protein helps protect the lungs from inflammation. While an AAT deficiency if somewhat rare, people with low levels often develop COPD at a young age (under 40).
Usually, COPD develops slowly over time until the someone realizes how much air he or she is not getting. Such loss of air intake is often due to one or more of a combination of factors that include smoking and environmental exposure.
By far, smoking is the most common denominator (five out of six people with COPD are smokers, mostly over the age of 40). Following smoking is environmental exposure. Sustained exposure to air pollutants or secondhand smoke, or even certain chemicals may contribute to the development of COPD.
Symptoms of COPD are:
- Constant coughing, sometimes called “smokers cough”
- Shortness of breath while doing activities you used to be able to do
- Excess sputum production
- Feeling like you can’t breathe
- Not being able to take a deep breath
Although there is no cure for COPD, it is treatable. Education plays a key strategy for taking charge of the symptoms. Information on lifestyle choice(s), therapy options, medical advances and a good relationship with a doctor plays a big part in disease management. As always, remember that a steady dose of being proactive and avoiding smoking are the best forms of medicine.
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