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What does COPD stand for?
Who gets COPD and how?Long-term cigarette smokers are most likely to develop COPD. Your risk increases the longer you smoke and the more you smoke. Other likely causes include cigar and pipe smoking, secondhand smoke, air pollution and some types of occupational fumes such as long-term exposure to chemicals, vapors and dusts that can inflame the lungs.
What are the symptoms?Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities, wheezing and chest tightness limit your ability to enjoy daily activities. Smokers may also notice a chronic cough that lasts three or more months. Symptoms usually donít become evident until you already have significant lung damage, and lung damage canít be reversed. COPD symptoms can be managed, although it becomes more difficult as the disease progresses.
Is there a cure?There is no cure, but your doctor can help you reduce your symptoms and associated complications by managing the disease and slowing its progression. The only way to prevent COPD from continuing to get worse is to stop all smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Seek help from a doctor, who can prescribe nicotine replacement products and medications that can help you successfully stop smoking. Be sure to drink lots of water and use a humidifier to keep air passages open. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet to maintain strength and endurance. If you have frequent heartburn, tell your doctor. Heartburn can aggravate COPD.
Can seeing a doctor help me breathe better?Your doctor can help you learn techniques to breathe more efficiently and what to do when youíre very short of breath. A doctor can also help you manage symptoms with a variety of medical treatments. For instance, inhaler medications relax airway muscle, relieving coughing and making breathing easier. Antibiotics can help fight bacterial infections. Oxygen therapy, or supplemental oxygen, can ease physical stress. Pulmonary rehabilitation has been shown to increase ability to participate in daily activities and decrease hospitalizations. Some types of surgery can offer relief too. Your doctor will be able to assess the level of your COPD and offer treatments most appropriate for your stage of disease.
What if I get worse?
Even if you are under a doctorís care, itís likely there will be times when your symptoms get worse suddenly. This is called an acute exacerbation, and these exacerbations may be caused by a respiratory infection or a change in temperature or air pollution. If you experience a sudden worsening of symptoms, itís very important to call your physician and get help immediately.
Jill Klemin, MD is a family medicine physician at Sanford North Clinic. She received her medical degree at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Grand Forks, and completed her residency at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Grand forks.