Health Watch: Managing COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It’s also the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Nearly 16 million people in the U.S. have COPD. Missouri ranks among the top with the most COPD cases.

There are two main forms of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. Other risk factors include: 1) Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace; 2) exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution; and 3) frequent use of a cooking fire without proper ventilation.

COPD symptoms may include any of the following: Cough, with or without mucus; Fatigue; Numerous respiratory infections; Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity; Trouble catching one's breath; Wheezing.  Dr. Ghassan Kamel, SLUCare pulmonologist at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital says, "patients with COPS are prone to have osteoporosis. They are prone to have muscle wasting."

There is no cure for COPD. But there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse:

1) If you smoke, quit immediately to slow lung damage;

2) Medicines used to treat COPD may include medications to open the airways and reduce lung inflammation. In severe cases or during flare-ups, steroids, bronchodilators through a nebulizer, oxygen therapy, and/or a machine to help with breathing may be necessary.

3) Avoid lung infections (such as the flu or pneumonia)

3) Pulmonary rehabilitation

4) Bullectomy is a procedure to remove one or more of the very large air sacs from the lungs

5) Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS) is a procedure to help people with severe emphysema affecting the upper lung lobes. LVRS is not a cure for COPD but can improve one's exercise capacity and quality of life.

SLUCare pulmonologists are currently investigating ways to use new biologics therapies – like the ones used to treat asthma – to treat COPD. For patients with asthma AND COPD, these biologic therapies have proven to be effective

COPD is associated with significant morbidity and mortality – affecting a person’s quality of life and ability to breathe comfortably. Although there is no cure for COPD, there are ways to manage symptoms and flare-ups.

SLUCare’s pulmonologists offer an array of COPD treatments and recommend certain behavioral modifications to help patients better manage their COPD.  For more information, click here.

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