Mesothelioma is not the only disease that causes long-term breathing problems. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a very common lung disease that makes breathing extremely difficult. The two main types of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis involves a long-term cough with mucus. Emphysema involves the destruction of a person’s lungs over a certain amount of time. It is fairly common for COPD sufferers to have a combination of both types.
The major cause of COPD is smoking cigarettes. The more a person smokes, the greater his or her risk of developing COPD. However, some individuals smoke for long periods of time yet never develop the disease.
It is also possible for men and women who do not smoke to get COPD, particularly when the patient lacks a protein known as alpha-1 antitrypsin. There are also other risk factors that increase an individual’s chance of getting COPD. These risk factors include exposure to large amounts of secondhand smoke or pollution, exposure to gases and other fumes while working, and exposure to cooking gas with no ventilation.
Symptoms of COPD include fatigue, wheezing, shortness of breath when performing mild activities, a lot of respiratory infections in a short amount of time, and a cough with mucus. Because symptoms take time to develop, it may take the individual a while to realize that he or she is seriously ill. The disease is diagnosed through use of a spirometer, which tests lung capacity. Stethoscopes and X-rays may also be helpful, but these tests may appear normal even if the patient has COPD.
There is no cure for COPD. However, there are certain things that can be done to relieve the pain. The best way to slow down the damage to the lungs is to stop smoking altogether. Medications such as inhalers and inhaled steroids can open up a patient’s airways and reduce lung inflammation. There are also surgical treatments available for advanced cases of COPD. For example, it is possible to have a lung transplant. It is also possible to remove parts of the diseased lung through surgery, though this treatment is normally a last resort.
According to the journal published by the Mayo Clinic , COPD has a high societal burden, meaning its cost—both financial and social—on the American population is high. Acute attacks of the disease, which occur about once per year in patients with moderate to severe COPD, can be reduced by long-acting drugs known as anticholinergics and β2–agonists.