Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that makes breathing difficult. It’s a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and it’s estimated to be the fourth leading cause of death globally.
In the UK, approximately 1.3 million people have been diagnosed with COPD. Sadly, around 30,000 fatalities are attributed to COPD in the UK every year. That number isn’t small, so chances are you or someone you know might be living with the disease—or at least familiar with its symptoms.
Whatever your current relationship with COPD, you deserve to know what it is, its various causes and symptoms, and most importantly, how to manage it and live a healthy life.
Managing COPD isn’t easy; it requires knowledge and commitment to preventing flare-ups and complications. Don’t fret, though! You don’t have to go at it alone. In this article, I’m going to help you navigate the ins and outs of living with COPD—from diagnosis through treatment to long-term care plans—by breaking down what COPD is, various causes of COPD, symptoms to look out for, diagnosis methods, treatments available for managing symptoms of COPD, potential long-term effects of the disease, triggers for flares, emphysema versus bronchitis in relation to COPD, as well as helpful supplements that can help increase the quality of life while living with this condition.
What Is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term that covers several respiratory illnesses, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is a progressive illness, which means it will get worse over time, and is caused by damage to your lungs from conditions such as asthma, allergies, or even smoking. People over the age of 40 with a history of smoking are most at risk for developing COPD.
COPD affects your ability to breathe by making it harder for air to move in and out of your lungs. Over time, your symptoms may become more severe, and you may experience shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, chest tightness, fatigue, and swollen feet. Diagnosing COPD can be difficult as many of your symptoms may resemble other illnesses, such as asthma. Your doctor will need to run tests to determine if you have COPD or another chronic lung disease.
Causes and Symptoms of COPD
You may be wondering what causes COPD. Even though smoking is by far the leading risk factor for developing COPD, long-term exposure to other irritants—like air pollution, chemicals and dust—can play a role, too.
The two key symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath and a persistent cough that produces mucus. Other signs of COPD may include:
- chest tightness
- swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs
- feeling like you can’t get enough air
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- an increased risk of lung infections like pneumonia and bronchitis
COPD is usually diagnosed through an evaluation of your family and medical history and a physical exam. As part of the diagnosis process, you may need pulmonary function tests that measure how much air you can inhale and exhale and how quickly you can exhale.
Diagnosis and Treatment of COPD
When you think you might have COPD, you must visit your doctor and get tested. Tests your doctor might do include a lung function test, chest X-rays, or a CT scan to confirm a diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis of COPD is made, your doctor will develop a treatment plan for you that may include the following:
- Prescription medication like bronchodilators, corticosteroids and combination inhalers
- Lifestyle changes and exercise therapy
- Rehabilitation programmes
- Surgery such as lung volume reduction or lung transplant
- Oxygen therapy
Supplements to Consider
You may want to take dietary supplements in addition to traditional methods to help manage your symptoms. Epsilon Life offers natural supplements designed to help people with COPD improve their breathing and overall health with ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids, n acetyl cysteine, vitamin D3 and magnesium bisglycinate.
Living With COPD: Prevention, Monitoring & Management
When it comes to living with COPD, prevention, monitoring, and management is key. You may have other medical conditions contributing to your COPD — such as heart disease or diabetes — so it’s important to consider them all when managing your health.
The best way to prevent COPD is to avoid exposure to air pollutants, quit smoking (or never start), and avoid secondhand smoke. If you are exposed to noxious fumes at work, wear the appropriate protective gear and talk with your employer about how they can help keep you safe.
Monitoring & Management
It’s important for any chronic condition but especially for those with COPD—it can help prevent flare-ups and keep your condition from worsening. Regular monitoring may involve pulmonary function tests (PFTs) and chest imaging—both of which can help determine how well your lungs are functioning—and regular checkups with a doctor specialising in treating people with COPD.
Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, taking food supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants for better health, managing stress levels, keeping up-to-date on vaccinations, and avoiding air pollutants. Additionally, you may benefit from using an inhaler or a nebulizer if prescribed by your doctor.
Advanced COPD: Emphysema, Bronchitis & Swollen Feet
If you’re living with advanced COPD, there are some other conditions you should know about.
The most common conditions associated with COPD are emphysema, bronchitis and swollen feet. Let’s take a look at each of them.
This condition is characterised by damage to the alveoli in the lungs that affects airflow in and out. People with emphysema often experience laboured breathing, wheezing and a chronic cough. They may find it difficult to stay physically active or to catch their breath after exercising. It can also cause headaches, rapid heart rate and chest pain.
Bronchitis occurs when the bronchi, or passageways of the lungs, become severely inflamed. Sufferers typically experience difficulty breathing, coughing up mucus and a sore throat. It can also cause chest discomfort or tightness in addition to fatigue and muscle aches.
People with COPD have an increased risk of developing swollen feet due to fluid buildup caused by changes in blood circulation that affects circulation to the legs and feet. This can cause fatigue, tingling sensations and changes in skin colour as well as reduced range of motion in the affected area.
Living with advanced COPD requires careful monitoring of your condition and proactive lifestyle choices—from adjusting your diet to taking supplements—to help manage symptoms and slow progression of the disease over time.
Supplements for Managing COPD Symptoms
Living with COPD can be a challenge. You must know the potential triggers, your overall diet (including avoiding processed foods), physical activity and even supplementation for managing COPD symptoms.
Supplements may be beneficial for keeping inflammation down, providing antioxidants to fight oxidative damage and supporting strong bones by increasing calcium absorption. Popular supplements for people with COPD include:
- Vitamins: Vitamins A, C, E and B-complex offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits
- Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and improve respiratory function
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: this potent antioxidant may help protect cells from free radical damage
- Glycine: This amino acid helps to promote better oxygen uptake
- Curcumin: This natural compound can reduce the risk of exacerbations triggered by air pollution
- Copper: Copper is an essential mineral that helps your body absorb other trace minerals like iron, zinc, manganese and molybdenum
- Resveratrol: Resveratrol can help fight oxidative damage linked to COPD
- N Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that has been shown to have several beneficial effects for people with COPD. NAC may help to reduce inflammation, thin mucus in the airways, and improve lung function. Studies have found that NAC supplementation can reduce the frequency and severity of COPD exacerbations and may also improve exercise tolerance in people with COPD. Additionally, NAC has been shown to improve quality of life and reduce hospitalizations in people with COPD.
Though supplements are not a substitute for medical treatment or lifestyle change, they may help manage COPD symptoms when taken in conjunction with your doctor’s recommended treatment plan or lifestyle modification recommendations. It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.
In conclusion, COPD is a severe and often debilitating chronic disease. If you are living with COPD, it’s important to know your condition’s signs, symptoms and possible triggers.
Additionally, you may want to look into treatments such as medications, supplements, inhalers, oxygen therapy and lifestyle changes. Researching and understanding your condition can help you manage your COPD and achieve a better quality of life.
Taking care of your body by eating well, exercising, and taking the necessary supplements can help you to manage your COPD and its symptoms. By educating yourself about COPD and understanding how to manage your condition, you can live an active and fulfilling life.