13 quick facts on COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is often referred to by people as emphysema, but that is a sub-category of COPD. It is often a condition afflicting long-term smokers. 

Here are 13 quick facts on COPD: 

  • COPD is a chronic lung disease that is characterised by obstruction of airflow.
  • This condition cannot be fully reversed by using bronchodilators.
  • Breathlessness, coughing and the production of sputum are the nost obvious symptoms of this condition.
  • Daily activities, such as walking up stairs, getting dressed, and doing chores around the house can become problematic.
  • Approximately 210 million people suffer from COPD worldwide, and 5% of all deaths globally are estimated to be due to this disease. It causes more than 3 million deaths annually, of which 90% are thought to occur in low and middle-income countries.
  • Cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for COPD, and much of the increase in COPD is associated with projected increases in tobacco use, especially in the developing world.
  • Smoke from coal and wood fires, exposure to dust, fumes and vapours, childhood illness, and previous tuberculosis are all risk factors.
  • Inflammation in the lungs smoulders on chronically for decades, resulting in progressive damage to the tissue that supports airway structures and the gas exchange surface of the lung. 
  • Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are now recognised as sub-diseases of COPD.
  • A characteristic of the inflammatory response of COPD is that it is not responsive to long-term medication with drugs such as corticosteroids, which are used successfully for prevention of asthma.
  • As it takes many years for the inflammation in the lungs to have an effect, COPD is primarily a disease affecting people over the age of 45.
  • It appears that starting smoking at a young age, the "total pack years" (the number of cigarettes smoked per year multiplied by the number of years of smoking) and the person's current smoking status all contribute to the final state of respiratory impairment due to COPD.
  • Cessation of smoking is the only significant therapeutic intervention that can retard the accelerated decline in lung function experienced by smokers with COPD.

(Compiled by Susan Erasmus from the A-Z of diseases on Health24, September 2012

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