Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a severe and long-term inflammatory lung disorder characterized by a persistent cough and shortness of breath. Even though smoking is responsible for 85-90% of cases of COPD, other factors such as air pollution, industrial dust, and fumes can also play a role. More than 15 million Americans are affected by this disease, making it the third greatest cause of mortality in the country.
Early detection is crucial to control the progression of COPD and avoid significant complications. The severity of each patient's COPD is evaluated using a system developed by doctors and known as the GOLD Criteria. COPD progresses through four phases, from mild to moderate to severe to extremely severe. Spirometry is a breathing test used to evaluate lung function by measuring how much air you can breathe and how quickly and easily you can exhale; the results will help your doctor estimate your stage. Your symptoms and the frequency of their flare-ups will also be considered.
As COPD is a progressive lung illness, the severity of symptoms and the risk of consequences like heart disease, pulmonary hypertension, and lung cancer rise with time. Although there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, it is treatable; by working with your doctor to create a treatment plan and continuing to engage in healthy behaviors like avoiding cigarette smoke, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting your annual flu shot, you can slow the progression of the disease.
Keep reading to gain insight into the symptoms and treatment options available at various phases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Stage – 1: Mild COPD
Breathlessness and persistent coughing, which may produce mucus, are the primary signs of stage 1 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, because of how subtle they are, you might not even notice that they are occurring.
Damage to the lungs occurs even at stage 1 of COPD, which is why the condition is so difficult to diagnose. Talk to your doctor about being checked out if you think you might have COPD. And if you're a smoker, putting up the effort to quit now will do wonders for your lungs.
In addition to quitting smoking, your doctor may recommend a bronchodilator medicine administered via an inhaler to relax the muscles around the airways and make breathing easier. It is common to experience unwanted side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness, tremors, a stuffy nose, and an irritated throat. Get in touch with your doctor if you have any severe side effects, such as double vision, a racing heart, or a skin rash or swelling.
If you don't want your respiratory symptoms or other health issues to worsen, you should get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia every year.
Stage – 2: Moderate COPD
As breathing restrictions worsen, stage 1 symptoms become increasingly severe. Coughing and mucus production may also increase, and you may find it harder to catch your breath during physical activity. Besides wheezing, other symptoms include exhaustion and insomnia.
This is the point at which many people become aware of their symptoms and start looking for help. Your doctor may suggest breathing exercises or a bronchodilator if they haven't previously. Pursed-lip breathing and synchronized breathing are two techniques that can help you sustain an active lifestyle with minimal effort.
Treatment for stage 2 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease often includes medication and pulmonary rehabilitation. It equips persons with the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with the means to control their illness, thereby lessening the impact of symptoms and enhancing their quality of life. Breathing techniques, coping strategies, dietary guidance, and exercise recommendations will all be covered during these outpatient exercise and education sessions led by physiotherapists, dietitians, nurses, and other medical professionals. Whether or not pulmonary rehabilitation is appropriate for you is something your doctor can advise you on.
Visits to the doctor should be scheduled at intervals determined by the nature of your illness. Follow-up appointments may be scheduled every six months if your symptoms are modest or more frequently if they are severe.
Stage – 3: Severe COPD
Significant impairment of pulmonary function characterizes Stage 3. Breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide becomes more challenging as the lungs' air sac walls deteriorate.
Your previous symptoms, like shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing, have become more frequent and severe, and you may even be producing thicker mucus.
Other symptoms you might have are;
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Experiencing a lack of focus or weak memory
- Tightness in the chest
- Swelling in legs, feet, and ankles
There was an increase in the number of cases of pneumonia and chest illnesses. Flare-ups are possible in which symptoms suddenly worsen, and lung function drastically alters. Increased mucus production and an abrupt tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways are also symptoms of an exacerbation.
As flare-ups are the most common reason for COPD-related hospitalizations, it is crucial to act quickly if you develop symptoms. Keep an eye out for these warnings:
- Shortness of breath or breathlessness
- Coughing fits become more frequent
- Makes whistling or wheezing sounds as you breathe
- Increase of mucus
- Experiencing Difficulty Sleeping or Feeling Tired
- Adverse effects on cognition such as muddled thinking, melancholy, or forgetfulness
Your doctor will work with you to create a plan for controlling flare-ups as part of your COPD treatment. Acute COPD exacerbations can be treated with oral steroids such as prednisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone. Any potential adverse effects from using these drugs for a short period are usually manageable.
Stage – 4: Very Severe COPD
Lung function is highly impaired in COPD stage 4. The severity and duration of stage 3 symptoms increase. Breathing becomes laborious, and shortness of breath is experienced during regular activity. In severe cases of COPD, known as stage 4, hospitalizations due to breathing difficulties, lung infections, or respiratory failure are common, and abrupt flare-ups can be fatal.
The additional signs of advanced COPD stage 4 are:
- A crackling sound when you breathe in
- A barrel chest
- Fast or irregular pulse
- Weight loss
- Pulmonary hypertension or hypertension of the pulmonary arteries and the heart's right ventricle
Additional oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation, and oral, intravenous, or inhaled steroids are some of the possibilities for treating severe COPD symptoms. Steroid use can lead to puffiness in the airways and mouth, weakening in the muscles, decreased weight, increased fatigue, and an increased risk of pneumonia. To learn more about dealing with drug side effects, check out our prior blog post, and bring up any concerns you have with your physician.
Oxygen therapy, also known as supplemental oxygen, helps enhance oxygen flow to the lungs, making it possible for the patient to engage in more strenuous physical activity. Several oxygen therapy devices are available. Nasal cannulas, which consist of two thin tubes that fit into your nostrils and an oxygen tank, are the most often used of these devices. Although it may take some time, you will eventually feel more at ease when using supplemental oxygen. If you or someone you know is considering beginning oxygen therapy, the American Lung Association has resources that can help.
Some persons with severe COPD may also benefit from lung surgery or a lung transplant. Whether or not you qualify depends on several things, including whether or not you smoke and how well your lungs have been functioning during pulmonary rehabilitation. A current smoking habit disqualifies a candidate for lung surgery. If you have lung problems, your doctor may recommend surgery.