With local statistics showing that Cumbernauld has relatively high rates of COPD, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub takes a closer look at what COPD is during COPD Awareness Month in the UK.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because your airways have been narrowed. Two of these lung conditions are persistent bronchitis and emphysema, which can also occur together. This makes it harder to move air in and out as you breathe, and your lungs are less able to take in oxygen and struggle to get rid of carbon dioxide.
An estimated 1.2 million people in the UK are living with the diagnosis, making COPD the second most common lung disease after asthma. Around 2% of the whole population – 4.5% of all people aged over 40 – live with diagnosed COPD.
According to World Health Organisation estimates, 65 million people have moderate to severe COPD, with total deaths from COPD projected to rise unless urgent action is taken. Estimates show that COPD could become the third leading cause of death in the world by 2030.
RISK FACTORS AND MORE ABOUT COPD
COPD usually develops because of long-term damage to your lungs from breathing in a harmful substance, usually cigarette smoke, as well as smoke from other sources and air pollution. Jobs where people are exposed to dust, fumes and chemicals can also contribute to developing COPD. You’re most likely to develop COPD if you’re over 35 and are, or have been, a smoker or had chest problems as a child.
Some people are more affected than others by breathing in noxious materials. COPD does seem to run in families, so if your parents had chest problems then your own risk is higher.
A rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency makes people very susceptible to developing COPD at a young age.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASTHMA AND COPD?
With COPD, your airways have become narrowed permanently – inhaled medication can help to open them up to some extent. With asthma, the narrowing of your airways comes and goes, often when you’re exposed to a trigger – something that irritates your airways – such as dust, pollen or tobacco smoke. Inhaled medication can open your airways fully, prevent symptoms and relieve symptoms by relaxing your airways.
So, if your breathlessness and other symptoms are much better on some days than others, or if you often wake up in the night feeling wheezy, it may be that you have asthma.
Because the symptoms are similar and because people who have asthma as children can develop COPD in later life, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two conditions. Some people have both COPD and asthma.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE COPD
See a GP if you have persistent symptoms of COPD, particularly if you’re over 35 and smoke or used to smoke. Do not ignore the symptoms – if they’re caused by COPD, it’s best to start treatment as soon as possible, before your lungs become significantly damaged.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and whether you smoke or have smoked in the past. They can organise a breathing test to help diagnose COPD and rule out other lung conditions, such as asthma.
There’s lots happening during the month of November to raise awareness of COPD. Further information, advice and guidance in relation to COPD can be obtained by visiting the British Lung Foundation website.