About the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

WHAT IS COPD?

COPD is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It means the airways (breathing tubes) in your lungs are inflamed (swollen) and partly blocked. COPD is a long-term disease that gets worse over time.

COPD includes two major breathing diseases that have more resonance in the public domain:

  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Emphysema

The chronic bronchitis part of COPD makes your airways inflamed, i.e., red, swollen and irritated. The damage to the airways and the glands in your airways which make extra mucus (phlegm), blocks some air from passing through. This makes you cough, spit up mucus, and feel short of breath.

The emphysema part of COPD from inflammation in the lung tissue damages the tiny air sacs (alveoli) at the tips of your airways. Normally these air sacs are stretchy, like balloons – they stretch out as you breathe in and shrink as you breathe out. But emphysema makes your air sacs stiff. They can’t stretch anymore, so air gets trapped inside them. This makes it hard for you to take in air and it makes you feel tired.

Once you’ve got COPD, you can’t get rid of it. In fact, your COPD may get worse. But there are ways you can manage your COPD and treat your symptoms.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE COPD IN CANADA?

A recent report indicates that more than 750,000 Canadians have COPD. Lung Association surveys shows that many more have COPD symptoms but have not yet been diagnosed. Doctors and public health officials agree that COPD is dramatically under-diagnosed and under-treated.

COPD is on the rise. Already COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. Public health authorities project that COPD will be the third leading cause of prematured death and disability in Canada and around the world by the year 2020.

WHAT CAUSES COPD?

Smoking cigarettes is the main cause of COPD in 80 - 90 % of cases.
Other things that can cause COPD are:

  • A rare genetic disorder called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency;
  • Second-hand smoke;
  • Air pollution (dust or chemicals);
  • Having repeated lung infections as a child.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COPD?

The main symptoms of COPD are:

  • Being short of breath;
  • Coughing up a lot of mucus (phelgm);
  • Feeling tired;
  • Getting chest infections often (colds, flu, etc.)and those infection which take long time to resolve.

People usually notice COPD symptoms when they're in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Often people think their COPD symptoms - feeling short of breath, wheezing or coughing - are a normal part of getting older. But they're not.

The sooner COPD is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. That's why it's important to catch symptoms early. COPD is a preventable and treatable disease.

HOW IS COPD TREATED?

There is no cure for COPD, but it is possible to slow down the disease and treat the symptoms and the complications (functional capacity, exacerbations, hospitalizations and health status).
The main treatments for COPD are:

  • Quitting smoking, and staying away from smoky and polluted places;
  • Taking medications, which may include pills, puffers, and supplemental oxygen;
  • Self-management education to learn new kills and adopt self-health behaviors that are need for coping with the disease on a day-to-day basis;
  • Joining a pulmonary rehabilitation class with exercise program.

HOW DOES COPD PROGRESS?

How long a patient will live depends on many things:

  • What age the patient was diagnosed at;
  • How bad his/her lung damage is;
  • Whether he/she keeps smoking, cut back or quit;
  • What kind of medical care and treatment he/she gets;
  • What other health problems he/she might have.

Some complications of COPD are:

  • Recurring chest infections usually called “COPD exacerbations”, including also pneumonia, flu like illness, etc.;
  • Pulmonary hypertension: higher-than-usual blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs; and Cor pulmonale that can lead to heart failure: enlargement and strain on the right side of the heart;
  • Irregular heart beat (arrhythmias);
  • Respiratory failure and death.

If you have COPD and you smoke, it's important to quit smoking. Work with your doctor to get proper care and treatment for COPD, so that you'll live as long and as comfortable a life as possible. It is also essential to take the proper medication and to adopt healthy habit (exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc). Many people with COPD enjoy a happy and productive life despite their disease.

WHY DO WE NEED MORE RESEARCH?

Research is essential for understanding the causes of a disease, the factors that influence the disease evolution and on which we can intervene, the ways we can improve the treatments and the way the health care system can optimize service delivery.

In particular, one type of research that we need more is a cohort study i.e., following a group of individuals with a specific condition and at risk for this condition over a period of many years, the best way we can learn about:

  • characterization of men and women at risk and those with early disease, and the complications;
  • better understand which factors modifiable through health interventions are related to health;
  • perception and disease evolution;
  • developing a framework to combat more efficiently this major health problem.

This will be possible through the nationwide study, the Canadian Cohort Obstructive Lung disease (CanCOLD).