When you breathe air into your lungs, oxygen is absorbed into the blood. This oxygen is then carried in the blood throughout the body to help it function. For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), getting air in and out of the lungs is difficult.
There are two main forms of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. With COPD, the airways in the lungs become inflamed and thicken, and the tissue where oxygen is exchanged is destroyed. The flow of air in and out of the lungs decreases. When that happens, less oxygen gets into the body’s tissues.
The main risk factor for COPD is smoking. Other risk factors include:
- Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals
- Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts
- Exposure to fumes from burning fuel
Treating COPD Means Treating the Whole Body
Once the lungs are damaged, they cannot regenerate. Because lung function affects overall health, COPD is treated as a systemic disease, meaning addressing the entire body, rather than a single organ.
In addition to medications to keep the lungs clear of mucus and decrease inflammation, one of the first lines of defense is to quit smoking.
Smoking breaks down the lining in the lungs and causes inflammation. Smoking in any form can damage the lungs, including vape, hookah and marijuana. Vaping presents new and different lung issues that are equally damaging, and in some cases, even more severe.
In addition to smoking cessation, it’s important for people with COPD to exercise and get adequate nutrition. Exercise helps blood circulate and helps the heart send oxygen to the body. It also strengthens the respiratory muscles, which can make breathing easier.
Overtime, COPD can lead to weight loss. When inflammation of the lungs becomes severe, the lung volume expands. This reduces the amount of space between the lungs and stomach, which can push the organs together when eating and cause discomfort. People with COPD should eat a diet with the right balance of nutrients, so they can maintain a healthy body mass index.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 16 million Americans have COPD, and millions more are undiagnosed.
While COPD is incurable, with proper treatment, people can live healthy lives. But diagnosis must come first. Talk to your doctor if you recognize any of the signs:
- Decreased exercise capacity
- Coughing with mucus
- Chest pain or a feeling of heaviness
- Shortness of breath with activities that may not have caused shortness of breath in the past
High Risk for Lung Cancer
Because COPD and lung cancer share causes, people with COPD have a higher chance of developing lung cancer. Long Beach Medical Center is the only hospital in Long Beach, and only one of a few in the area, to offer a screening that uses a low-dose CT scan to detect lung cancer early, at the most curable stage.
A screening is recommended if you:
- Are between 55 and 77-years-old.
- Are currently a smoker or have quit within the past 15 years.
- Have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years (or the equivalent).
If you do receive a lung cancer diagnosis, our team at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute will be here for you every step of the way. Through multi-disciplinary treatment planning conferences, our medical oncologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons and more review new cases and develop treatment plans suited to the specific needs of each patient.
- Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Disorders