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VA MidSouth Healthcare Network


Feature Article - Don't Let COPD Take Your Breath Away

Veterans Health WatchWoman Blowing Bubbles with Child

Day and night, our lungs expand and contract without needing any reminders. In fact, most of the time we don’t even
realize we’re breathing. However, for those who suffer from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, breathing is a constant concern.

Because both conditions commonly occur together, they’ve been classified under the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The more you know about COPD, the sooner you’ll be able to spot symptoms and get treatment. “Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for COPD,” says Nancy Munn, M.D., chief of pulmonary section at VA Medical Center in Huntington. In fact, smoking causes 80 percent to 90 percent of all COPD cases.

Move It To Use It
If you have trouble getting enough air when you’re just cleaning around the house, you may fear that exercise is out of your reach. But physical activities such as walking will teach your body how to use less oxygen more efficiently. that means you’ll be able to do the same amount of work with less air. Here are some tips:

  • Before you start, clear your lungs of mucus by coughing.
  • Practice deep breathing before and during the activity. Counting as you breathe can help. Breathe in: 1-2. Breathe out: 1-2-3-4.
  • If you feel short of breath at any time, stop and relax for a few minutes, then continue.
  • The best times for people with COPD to exercise are in the morning and in late afternoon or evening after their lungs are cleared of mucus. Before you start any sort of exercise program, talk to your health care provider.

Pace yourself
People with COPD say that pacing their activities and knowing their limits are key to living well. if you have COPD, try to:

  • Listen to your body. if you wake up feeling supercharged, try tackling the project you saved for an energetic day. on the other hand, if you feel as if your batteries are running a little low, take it easy.
  • Tune into when you feel your best—and take advantage. For many people, that’s soon after they’ve taken their medicine or had a breathing treatment

Chronic bronchitis
Otherwise known as “smoker’s cough,” chronic bronchitis is marked by a frequent cough. Common symptoms also include increased mucus, frequent clearing of the throat and shortness of breath.

Woman Working in GardenChronic bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes become irritated and inflamed, decreasing the amount of air that can flow in and out of the lungs. If the bronchial tubes have been irritated for a long time, then excess mucus is produced, the tubes thicken and an irritating cough develops. The situation can get dangerous if airflow is hampered.

Causes and treatment: Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Treatment involves drugs designed to relax and open up air passages (called bronchodilators). And, of course, if smoking is related to the condition, patients are instructed to quit.

More than 3.6 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with emphysema—91 percent of whom are over age 45—according to the American Lung Association.

Emphysema develops when a chemical imbalance in the lungs causes the walls of the air sacs to lose their elasticity and break. Since the air sacs are responsible for trading the oxygen in the air for the blood’s carbon dioxide, damage to the sacs causes the lungs to work harder to get more air to the body, causing shortness of breath. The loss of elasticity also makes exhaling difficult.

Causes and treatment: As with chronic bronchitis, smoking is a major cause of emphysema.  Some people have chronic bronchitis before developing emphysema. Although quitting smoking can stop the progression of the disease, it cannot cure emphysema. Other treatments include bronchodilator drugs, corticosteroids, antibiotics, oxygen therapy and aerobic exercise to strengthen lung muscles and to teach the heart how to work more efficiently.




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This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, which should be obtained from your doctor.