Currently affecting as many as 12 million Americans, COPD leads to the destruction of the airway and alters the obstruction of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide. As a result, COPD sufferers will experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, and ongoing cough often associated with phlegm, excessive mucus, wheezing and problems exhaling air. Let's take a look at some COPD facts.
Unveiling Essential COPD Facts You Need to Know
1. Millions of People Have COPD and Don't Know It
COPD tends to occur later in life, and some may think that coughing more often or feeling short of breath is just a part of getting older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 12 million Americans have a diagnosis of COPD, and another 12 million are likely to have this condition and don’t know it.
If you have ongoing problems with your breathing or coughing, you should talk to your doctor and get tested, as these changes may not be due to age but underlying COPD. The sooner you start the treatment, the better will be your condition can be managed. COPD is currently the third leading cause of death in the US, killing more than 120,000 people every year.
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2. COPD Does Not Affect Only Smokers
While is true that as many as nine out of 10 people diagnosed with COPD are past or current smokers, COPD can also develop in people who don’t smoke. Other risk factors for this condition include exposure to toxic chemicals such as silica and cadmium, or working in places with excessive dust, industrial smoke or other air pollutants. If you work in such environment, or if you are a miner, furnace worker or grain farmer, you should see your doctor regularly to assess the function of your lungs.
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3. COPD Can Be Inherited
Many conditions run in families, and the same thing is true of a rare condition called alpha 1 anti-trypsin (AATD) deficiency. If you have this disease you lack a protein that helps protect against lung damage and are more likely to develop COPD. AAT deficiency raises the risk not only of lung disease but also liver damage because alpha 1 antitrypsin is normally produced in the liver.
In AATD deficiency, the AAT proteins don’t have the right shape and end up getting stuck in the liver, unable to reach the lungs. AATD deficiency may not cause any symptoms or can be associated with shortness of breath, wheezing, frequent lung infections, fatigue, problems with vision and weight loss. AATD deficiency can be diagnosed with blood and genetic tests.
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4. Diet Can Lower Your Risk for COPD
If you consume more foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and other essential nutrients, you may have a lower risk of developing COPD. Diet is crucial for your lungs and the whole body. According to research studies, individuals with COPD often lack antioxidants and nutrients, especially vitamins A, C, E, magnesium, selenium, zinc and potassium. These nutrient deficiencies have been linked with having COPD and poor lung function. Diet is also important to keep your weight optimal, as carrying extra weight can aggravate your ability to breathe and function.
Generally speaking, a Mediterranean diet type works best. This can help correct nutritional shortages associated with COPD as it includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, as well as lean meats and fish, nuts and seeds. Talk to a nutritionist or dietician to get an individualized dietary plan for your condition, and perhaps take some of these nutrients in supplement form as well.
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5. Natural Supplements Can Help Manage Symptoms
Magnesium deficiency is common and can happen not just because of poor diet, but can be also induced by some drugs prescribed for COPD. This mineral is essential for lung function. According to one research study, the use of IV magnesium for COPD treatment participants to breathe easier and decreased the number of days they spent in the hospital.
N-acetylcysteine (also known as NAC) is closely related to an amino acid found in diet and has strong antioxidant qualities. Several studies found that NAC helped improve symptoms of
COPD, and possibly reduced the number and severity of flare-ups.
Talk to an alternative healthcare professional to find out more about NAC, the optimal dosage and possible interactions with other supplements or drugs.
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6. Exercise Can Improve Symptoms
COPD symptoms are often aggravated with physical activity so this may seem strange, but staying as active as you can help improve your lung function and overall your health. For example, strengthening exercises for your arms and legs will improve your endurance and thus you’ll breathe better.
Some breathing techniques – particularly pursed lip technique and breathing from your diaphragm – are also helpful. A respiratory therapist can recommend a rehab program that includes specific exercises. These techniques will help you feel better and keep your lungs in shape. Remember to get enough rest, too – aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and take naps during the day as needed.
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7. Surgery Can Be a Treatment Option for COPD
Medication such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids are the first line of treatment for COPD, and some people will also need oxygen therapy as the disease progresses. What is less well-known is that surgery is also an option.
It is recommended rarely, for severe cases. During surgery, the damaged parts of the lungs are removed, creating more space for the healthy lung tissue to function better. Severe cases of COPD may also benefit from flung transplants.
Learn more about COPD and coping with a COPD diagnosis over at NewLifeOutlook.