The third Wednesday of November is marked as World COPD Day every year to raise awareness about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and share information on ways to prevent it.
COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that leads to restricted airflow in the lungs and breathing difficulties. It is estimated as the third leading cause of death and affects more than 65 million people worldwide.
The two most common conditions that contribute to COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema occurs when alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) get damaged due to exposure to cigarette smoking or other irritants. Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, leading to persistent cough and mucus production.
People with COPD are at high risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and other complications, including depression and high blood pressure in the lung arteries.
Around 16 million people in the U.S. live with COPD, and millions more might be suffering from it without diagnosis.
The theme for this year’s World COPD Day, “Breathing is Life – Act Earlier,” highlights the significance of maintaining healthy lungs for overall well-being and emphasizes the need to take early action.
Although COPD worsens over time, with early diagnosis and treatment, many people can manage the symptoms and have a quality life.
Symptoms of COPD
Not everyone with COPD has the same symptoms, and most often symptoms are mild in the early stages. The signs include shortness of breath and wheezing, particularly during physical activities, tightness in the chest, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections, lack of energy, unintentional weight loss and swelling in ankles and legs.
Causes, risk factors
COPD is primarily caused by tobacco smoking. Prolonged exposure to pipe smoke, air pollution, dust and fumes from burning fuel can also elevate the risk. People with asthma also face an increased risk. Certain cases of COPD are associated with a genetic disorder known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.
COPD is a preventable disease and the primary measure involves quitting smoking and minimizing exposure to air pollutants. Using protective gear while working near chemical fumes and dust can reduce the risk of developing the condition.
To prevent complications from COPD, patients are recommended to take flu and pneumonia vaccines that prevent several respiratory infections.