Saturday, 17 September 2011

Helpful Tips to Cope With COPD Breathlessness

Shortness of breath is a characteristic symptom for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A major cause of breathlessness in COPD is hyperinflation of the lungs due to air trapping, which happens mainly due to airflow limitation. Breathlessness and the inability to engage in normal activity are the most distressing symptoms that COPD patients deal with. Starting early treatment and learning breathing and relaxation techniques are vital to coping with sudden bouts of breathlessness.

Anxiety and COPD
Breathlessness during COPD flare-ups is severe and is a cause for anxiety for COPD patients even when they are not in the middle of such an episode.
Understanding how the body reacts to stress and anxiety is very important. Panic and anxiety make the muscles in the body tighten which makes breathing even harder. This is precisely why patients and their caregivers need to learn to stay calm when they sense the coming of an attack, normally referred to as COPD exacerbation. As patients sense or find themselves in an episode of exacerbation, they panic causing their breathing to quicken. This is counter-productive and puts added stress on the respiratory system making it work harder.

Breathing Techniques
Learning to stay calm during flare-ups and actually slowing down breathing will have a calming effect. One can restore the regular pattern of breathing faster by learning breathing techniques such as pursed lip breathing. Here the patient inhales air through the nose and then gradually lets out the air through pursed lips, while keeping the mouth nearly shut. This forces air to stay longer in the body and opens up airways that much longer. Using this technique at least 10 times when a patient begins to feel breathlessness or stress can slow down breathing. Breathlessness tends to cause stress and stress seems to cause breathlessness too. So practicing pursed lip breathing several times through the day can keep panic away that worsens COPD symptoms.

Visualization Techniques
The power of suggestion is known to be very strong. Thoughts of stress bring on stress. Visualization is a relaxation technique where a person retires to a quiet place, isolates all disturbing sounds and very often darkens the room or lies with eyes closed. The entire body is then relaxed by focusing on each part. Then you lead your mind through peaceful images and enliven the scene in the mind with sounds that accompany the scene in reality. For instance, you think of a stream of water and then the green grass around it, the trees chirping in the trees, the gentle gurgling of water and the sweet smell of soil and water mixing together. Conjuring up such images works for many people and they experience immediate relaxation. Some use classical music, yoga and tai chi to that effect.

Recovering from Flare-ups
Remember to use whatever works for you during and after an episode of breathlessness. It is important to lay still for a minimum of five to ten minutes after a bout to help the body restore normal breathing. Do not be in a rush to get up and start normal activity.
All of these techniques should be used alongside prescribed medications and therapy. They are not a replacement for conventional medication.

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COPD And Risk Factors

What can you do to prevent COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a long-lasting obstruction of the airways that occurs with chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both. Inhaled toxins are the single most common cause of COPD. These toxins irritate the airways that go from the throat to the lungs, causing the inflamed mucus lining to leak mucus into the lungs.

Tobacco smoking is the number one risk factor associated with COPD. Since tobacco smoking as an addiction is seen all over the world, the number of people suffering from COPD seems to be an ever-growing number.

As COPD is a progressive disease, one has to understand the risk factors to improve their management of symptoms and halt the rapid progression of the disease. In the US, an estimated 14 million people have been diagnosed with COPD of which 12.5 million people have chronic bronchitis, and 1.7 million people have emphysema. Several millions may be undiagnosed and therefore unaccounted for in terms of numbers.
To understand what one can do to manage and control their risk to COPD, it is helpful to break them down risk posing factors as those that can be controlled, those that can only be partially controlled and risks that cannot be controlled.

Smoking - A major risk factor
In the US, more than 120,000 people die each year from COPD. Between 80 and 90 % of all these COPD deaths are due to smoking. In the UK, COPD clamis 30,000 people every year. Most sufferers of COPD are smokers or smokers who quit the habit. If a person has never smoked, the likelihood of that person developing COPD is very low.
Tobacco smoke contains numerous poisonous chemicals and toxins. The prolonged exposure over several years to tar in cigarette smoke leads to the narrowing of the bronchioles and destruction of the lung's filtering system. With habitual smoking, toxins and chemicals in tobacco smoke cause a build-up in the lungs over time which may cause permanent damage to lung tissue.
If you are a smoker and diagnosed with COPD giving up smoking can stop the disease from progressing even faster to the final fatal stage. Since there is correlation between the numbers of years one has smoked and the number of cigarettes one smokes on an average and the occurrence of COPD, people who are casual smokers or still not affected with COPD should quit smoking.

Controlling Other Risk Factors of COPD
Apart from tobacco smoke, other harmful substances that get into the lungs through breathing and damage them permanently are toxic chemicals, cotton dust and chemical dust or fumes.

Where smoke, chemical dust or fumes are occupational hazards that you cannot escape from use breathing aids that help filter these elements. Let your work area get as much ventilation and circulation of fresh air as possible.

Limit the time you spend exposed to secondhand smoke and industrial equipment or household appliances that give off emissions that cause respiratory ailments.

Risks Beyond Control
Some individuals are genetically predisposed to COPD due to a rare deficiency called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. This inhibits the production of a vital protein that protects lungs from damage. Other factors that affect lung health, such as asthma and low birth weight, can also hasten the progress of COPD.

Helpful Resources for COPD

Some Useful resources for information and help with COPD

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Health Information Center (NHLBI) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides public and patient education materials on COPD. It is a quick and easy way to find complete and reliable information, written in easy-to-understand language. The publications are available for online viewing and for ordering print copies as well.

NHLBI has developed a national campaign called COPD Learn More Breathe Better®. If you have COPD or think you may be at risk, you can take steps to make breathing easier and live a longer and more active life. Get a simple breathing test and talk with your doctor or health care provider about treatment options that are right for you. 

COPD Contact Information
Or, write to: 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Health Information Center
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda , MD 20894-0105
Phone: 301-592-8573
TTY: 240-629-3255
Fax: 301-592-8563

COPD Treatment Options Today Give Higher Quality of Life

COPD has no known cure but there are a variety of treatment paths that patients can pursue on the advice of a specialist pulmonologist to enhance the quality of everyday life. The common goal of COPD treatment should be to result in:
  • Delivering relief from symptoms
  • Slowing the progress of the disease
  • Improving tolerance to physical activity
  • Preventing and treating flare-ups
  • Improving overall health and lifestyle changes
Self-Help in COPD:
There are many things that those suffering with COPD can do to continue to live active and satisfying life.

  • Quitting smoking is the most significant change that any COPD patient can decide upon to better his disease condition. Apart from medications, counseling and support groups are also very helpful in quitting smoking. Staying active and moderate exercise is also known to be a mood elevator that helps to keep away depression.
  • Stay in good health and take adequate care to avoid coming down with flu, influenza and other bacterial infections as these conditions worsen COPD. Follow the routine suggested by your doctor with regard to annual shots against these infections.
  • Eat healthy as muscle weakness and weight-loss as a weaker body is less successful in fighting off infections.
  • Avoid triggers like tobacco smoke, chemical fumes and air pollution which can bring on episodes of flare-ups and aggravate symptoms.
  • Learn breathing techniques that will help increase air flow and thereby oxygen levels in blood which help with better lung function.
  • Rest is essential for those severe COPD as even routine daily activities can tire the body easily. Learn to do the same activities expending less energy whenever possible.
  • Educate yourself well about disease treatment, prognosis and options that you may have to ease living with COPD.
  • Join support groups or counseling sessions to interact with people with similar conditions that can help you overcome depression and get compassionate guidance.
Oxygen Treatments:
Reduce the likelihood of right sided heart failure with proper oxygen therapy as suggested by your doctor. Often portable cylinders are used by patients to enhance supply of oxygen to the lungs and therefore, blood.

Your doctor may use a variety of medications like Bronchodilators to help with shortness of breath. Anti-inflammatory medicines such as corticosteroids pills or inhaled medicines could be of great help and relief.

Dealing with COPD flare-ups:
Every now and then symptoms of COPD worsen and may need readjustments to your existing regimen of medication. Your doctor may use anticholinergics or oral corticosteroids and beta-agonists, each of which is used to treat different conditions associated with COPD. Mechanical inhalers, masks and other devices may also be used to administer the chosen medicine. Antibiotics may be used to treat infections like flu which can worsen COPD.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs:
These are rehab programs exclusively made for people with lung problems. Right breathing exercises vital to COPD patients are taught in these programs.

Surgical Intervention:
Where damage to lungs is severe surgery may be the last resort. The damaged tissue of the lung is taken out surgically. Where lungs are at the point of collapsing, in rare cases lung transplant to transport a healthy donor lung is carried out. Lung volume reduction surgery removes damaged part of the lungs and makes room for the healthy part of the lung to function better. Bullectomy is another surgical option.
Surgical intervention in treating COPD is used rather conservatively, only when not much else can be done to bring relief to the patient. Quitting smoking is the best step for prevention of COPD. Using breathing and relaxation techniques to cope with symptoms can give much needed relief from symptoms.

Know About Bronchitis

What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a term that means inflammation of the lining of the trachea and bronchi which are the tubes leading from the throat to the lungs. The mucus lining of the trachea, the bronchi and the lungs becomes reddened and swollen due to the inflammation. This in turn causes increased mucus production leading to cough and sputum, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Depending on the severity of symptoms, it may be diagnosed as either Acute Bronchitis or Chronic Bronchitis.

What is Acute Bronchitis?
Acute Bronchitis is seen in both children and adults. A child with acute bronchitis may initially exhibit signs of common cold such as a runny nose, sore throat and mild fever. Dry cough develops a few days later which turns moist in a day or two. There may be slight wheezing too. Acute bronchitis in children may not need medical treatment and generally goes away on its own in 10 days to a few weeks. Adults may experience similar symptoms along with thick yellow or greenish mucus and pain when they cough, body pains and chills.

What is Chronic Bronchitis?
Chronic Bronchitis, unlike acute bronchitis, is a condition where bronchitis goes on long-term, often for months and even years. Symptoms like coughing and mucus production can return each year and can last longer each time they reappear. Chronic bronchitis does not go away on its own and is a serious respiratory disease that needs professional medical attention and care.

Infectious bronchitis, another term used for acute bronchitis, is predominantly inflammation of the airways. But when it progresses to become chronic, the predominant change is that the irritated and swollen lining of the bronchi start leaking mucus into the lungs. The small hair like protrusions in the lungs called the Cilia that move the mucus out of the respiratory tract now fail to move the excessive mucus. As a result, the mucus settles down and worsens the infection.

Smoking and Increased Risk of Bronchitis
Among adults, smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Children with common cold and cough who live around a smoker are more likely to develop acute bronchitis. For a smoker, a bout of acute bronchitis can be much harder to recover from when compared to a non-smoker in good health. The likelihood of it progressing into chronic bronchitis is also much higher. Chronic bronchitis causes the mucus membranes of the trachea and the lungs to remain swollen and irritated, and over time, cause the cilia, small structures in the lung that move out mucus, to be permanently damaged. Further, the constant presence of mucus in the lungs may result in scarring, distortion and irreversible damage to the airways in the lungs.
Prolonged, untreated chronic bronchitis can become serious in people who smoke and elderly people leading to other diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and emphysema among others. Those with chronic illnesses of the heart or lung disease also become vulnerable to other viral and bacterial infections.

Other Causes of Bronchitis
Almost 90% of cases of acute bronchitis are triggered by viral infection whereas a mere 10% are triggered by bacterial infections. Chronic bronchitis is usually caused by long-term inhalation of irritants, such as cigarette smoke and chemical pollutants. People who live or work in polluted environments and are exposed to chemical pollutants such as miners are more likely to develop both forms of bronchitis.

COPD & It's Causes

What causes COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is partially reversible airflow obstruction caused due to inflammation resulting from inhalation of toxins. Smoking is regarded as the most important risk factor in the development of COPD. Research has conclusively shown that long-term smokers of cigarettes are at increased risk of getting COPD. COPD takes years to develop and progress. Long term smokers generally exhibit symptoms of COPD in their forties or fifties if they had been smoking for about 20 years of their life.

COPD comprises of two disease conditions - chronic obstructive bronchitis and emphysema. Many patients have features of both though they may appear together or separately.
It is estimated that nearly 24 million people in the US have airflow limitation, of which nearly 12 million suffer from COPD. COPD is the 4th leading cause of deaths in the US.

COPD and Chronic Bronchitis
COPD could be the resultant progression of acute cough that causes inflammation and swelling of the mucus lining of the airways in the lung called bronchi. This leads to production of excessive mucus that settles in the lungs. This in turn, sets off chronic cough lasting at least 3 months and upto 2 successive years in duration. The presence of excessive mucus and cough result in constriction of airways that causes shortness of breath normally associated with chronic bronchitis.
Nearly all sufferers of chronic bronchitis are known to be smokers or have been smokers in the past. Tobacco smoke from cigarettes causes irritation to the airways.

COPD and Emphysema
Emphysema occurs when tiny air sacs called alveoli get affected by inhaled toxins and do not function normally. These air sacs have stretchy tissue that stretch when air is breathed in and contract when air is let out from the lungs. Within these air sacs, blood gets infused with oxygen in place of carbon dioxide left due to metabolic activity.
Emphysema causes the air sacs to collapse when an individual breathes out, trapping bad air in the lungs. This makes it hard for new air that is rich in oxygen to enter the air sacs. Damaged air sacs provide lungs with inadequate air, making one feel shortness of breath. When the air sacs get enlarged and finally collapse, they do not regenerate or get replaced. This is why damage to lungs is irreversible.

COPD and Genetic Causes
Genetic factors also contribute to COPD though such cases are much rarer in occurrence. A genetic disorder known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency inhibits the production of a protein that is essential to help protect lungs from damage. In smokers, it markedly influences susceptibility to the disease with many people showing symptoms of emphysema as early as in their thirties and forties. In non-smokers, this deficiency is not known to trigger COPD until very advanced age.

Other Causes of COPD
Though of lesser significance when compared to cigarette smoking, low body weight at birth, childhood respiratory diseases, secondhand cigarette smoke exposure, occupational dust like mineral dust, cotton dust and chemical fumes are also known to be contributors to the risk of COPD.

COPD and What You Can Do to Prevent It

Most cases of COPD develop over time, after the lungs and airways have suffered irreversible damage over several years and decades, from inhaling irritants with toxic particles and smoke. Cigarette smoking is the most often cause. Since COPD has a clear cause, it also has a clear path to prevention.

Quit Smoking
Quit Smoking ASAP!
If you've been a long-time smoker quitting will seem daunting and even impossible. More so, if you have tried several times in the past and failed. But if you've been diagnosed with COPD, the single most important thing you can do is to quit smoking immediately. Though there are other things you can do to cope with COPD, they do not compare in significance to what quitting smoking can do to help. Cessation of smoking will slow down the damage to lungs and advancement of the disease. Note that COPD is a progressive disorder that will get worse over time. There is no cure. This is so because the damage that the lungs and the airways, the tubes that carry air from your throat to lungs, suffer permanent damage.

Most smokers are diagnosed with COPD when they are in their early 40's or 50's. In many cases, since the patient is in early stage COPD, they do not take professional help. Meanwhile, lung damage progresses. Some smokers with COPD fail to realize how devastating it is on their lungs and persist with their addiction.
Quitting smoking is less intimidating if you speak to your doctor about the many options available today. You may seek the help of a specialist like a Pulmonologist who specifically treats lung and respiratory problems.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is found to be highly successful to help with quitting smoking. Several NRT products like transdermal patches and chewing gums can be used.Other alternative methods, such as counseling, support groups, hypnotherapy and acupuncture can also be helpful. Educate yourself and discuss with your doctor what might be best for you.

Avoiding Exposure to Pollutants
In some occupations, exposure to chemical fumes and dust is unavoidable. These lung irritants can lead to COPD over several years of exposure. Since this is nearly an everyday health hazard you face, talk to your employers and supervisors about providing the best ways to protect with aids such as a breathing mask. Speak about improving ventilation in the work area.

Timely Vaccinations
Vaccination against viral influenza and pneumonia is strongly recommended in all patients with cardiopulmonary diseases, including COPD.

Dealing with Genetic Risk Factors to COPD
If you have a rare deficiency which causes low levels of the protein alpha1-antitrypsin, stopping smoking is especially important. People who have this protein deficiency should get timely shots of alpha-1 antitrypsin that is obtained from human plasma. It is known to lower their risk for severe COPD.
For infants who are born with low birth weight, many times poor airway function is seen soon after birth. This is another known risk factor for COPD due to airflow obstruction that starts in infancy and continues well into early adulthood. A pulmonologist can advise proper breathing and physical exercises to help with better intake of air.