A picture of a heart-shaped stone with the word breathe written on itToday is World COPD Awareness Day.  The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease promotes 15th November as a day to raise awareness for the early detection and management of this condition.

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a disease which causes a number of breathing symptoms which do not settle down over time.  It is, however, preventable and can be treated although it cannot be cured.

The cause of COPD is primarily damage to the lungs caused by prolonged exposure to harmful gases or particles in the air. Exposure to tobacco smoke is the most common of these gases or particles.

One of the main features of this condition is a difficulty emptying the lungs of air when we breathe out, called airflow limitation.  The inflammation and structural damage of the lung tissue causes some parts to become narrowed and others floppy, which traps or blocks air when we exhale .  This causes you to feel short of breath or breathless.  Other symptoms are a chronic cough, wheezing and an increase in the amount of mucous, although not everyone experiences all of these symptoms.

In recent years as more people become aware of the disease and are studied, it appears that not everyone follows the same disease process.  Genetics may play more of a role than first thought. Exposure to certain types of pollutants or gases results in particular patterns of damage. As more is known about the specific features of this disease, the more individual the treatment approach will be.

Here are some important considerations about the disease and managing it.

I have been a little out of breath for a few weeks, should I see my doctor?

A picture of a pair of lungsIf you have been feeling out of breath with activities that would usually don’t affect you then speak to your GP. Most GPs now have access to a simple machine called a spirometer which you breathe into that will test if you have airflow limitation and  give your GP information as to whether you have COPD or not.  They will also discuss your symptoms and how they affect your daily life to help them decide on further investigations and treatments.

I am worried as I smoke.

Stopping smoking is a key part in managing the disease.  It does not matter at what age you stop, the benefits to your lungs and your overall health are significant.  There are now numerous methods readily available through your GP to help you quit.  If you have tried before and been unsuccessful you should be congratulated for this positive step and know that your next attempt may well be easier.

What can be done if I have COPD?

Depending on your symptoms your doctor may prescribe you inhalers which will help with the airflow limitation and relieve your breathlessness.

Taking medications is only one part of managing COPD.  In fact one of the main treatments shown to reduce shortness of breath is to exercise.  People who are diagnosed with COPD are encouraged to attend pulmonary rehabilitation of which exercise is a primary component and is overseen by a physiotherapist. The exercises chosen will be tailored to you and your abilities and can include strengthening your muscles, improving your cardiovascular fitness and improving flexibility.   Becoming stronger and less breathlessness means you feel more able to carry out your everyday tasks and are more in control of your symptoms. Exercise also has the added benefit of making you feel good!

Physiotherapy is also a key component in helping you deal with other symptoms.  A physiotherapist will be able to teach you techniques and breathing exercises to manage breathlessness.  If you have an excess of mucous as part of your COPD, a physiotherapist will be able to teach your techniques to clear mucous more effectively.

You are also a key player in the treatment of COPD!

Evidence has shown that ‘self-management’ improves COPD.  Self-management includes learning about the disease and how to manage your specific symptoms.  Ask a healthcare professional such as your GP, nurse or physiotherapist to advise you on an individual action plan for managing COPD when it is stable and when the symptoms may worsen.

At Central Health Physiotherapy we offer specialist respiratory physiotherapy to support you in managing COPD.  We also offer an exercise class that is specifically tailored for people who have a lung condition.

Further information can be found at:

https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/copd
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd/
http://goldcopd.org/

Keena Shavji

Keena Shavji is a highly experienced specialist respiratory physiotherapist specialising in the treatment of conditions which affect the heart and lungs, such as cardiac problems, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis.

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