Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness.
Many people mistake their increased breathlessness and coughing as a normal part of ageing. In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath. You begin to see the symptoms in the more developed stages of the disease. That’s why it is important that you talk to your doctor as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. Ask your doctor about taking a spirometry test.
What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?
- Increased breathlessness
- Frequent coughing (with and without sputum)
- Tightness in the chest
What are the risk factors and common causes of COPD?
Most cases of COPD are caused by inhaling pollutants; that includes smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc.), and second-hand smoke.
Fumes, chemicals and dust found in many work environments are contributing factors for many individuals who develop COPD.
Genetics can also play a role in an individual’s development of COPD – even if the person has never smoked or has ever been exposed to strong lung irritants in the workplace.
Here is more information on the top three risk factors for developing COPD:
COPD most often occurs in people 40 years of age and older who have a history of smoking. These may be individuals who are current or former smokers. While not everybody who smokes gets COPD, most of the individuals who have COPD (about 90% of them) have smoked.
COPD can also occur in those who have had long-term contact with harmful pollutants in the workplace. Some of these harmful lung irritants include certain chemicals, dust, or fumes. Heavy or long-term contact with secondhand smoke or other lung irritants in the home, such as organic cooking fuel, may also cause COPD.
How can it be diagnosed?
There’s no single test for COPD. Diagnosis is based on symptoms, a physical exam, and test results.
When you visit the doctor, be sure to mention all of your symptoms. Tell your doctor if:
- you’re a smoker or have smoked in the past
- you’re exposed to lung irritants on the job
- you’re exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke
- there’s a family history of COPD
- you have asthma or other respiratory conditions
- you take over-the-counter or prescription medications
During the physical exam, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs as you breathe. Based on all this information, your doctor may order some of these tests to get the complete picture:
- A spirometry is a noninvasive test to assess lung function. During the test, you’ll take a deep breath and then blow into a tube connected to the spirometer.
- Imaging tests include a chest X-ray or CT scan. These images can provide a detailed look at your lungs, blood vessels, and heart.
- An arterial blood gas test involves taking a blood sample from an artery to measure your blood oxygen levels.
These tests can determine if you have COPD, or perhaps some other condition, such as asthma or heart failure
Spirometry Or Pulmonary Function Test
The most effective and common method for diagnosing COPD is spirometry, also known as a pulmonary function test or PFT. This easy, painless test measures lung function and capacity.
Spirometry results help determine which type of lung disease you have and its severity. The results can be interpreted immediately. This test is the most effective because it can determine COPD before significant symptoms appear. It can also help your doctor track the progression of COPD and monitor the effectiveness of treatment.
Because spirometry requires you to exhale forcefully, it’s not recommended for someone who has recently had a heart attack or heart surgery. It’s important to be fully recovered from any serious illnesses or conditions prior to testing. Even if you’re in basically good health, you may feel a little breathless and dizzy immediately after the test.
- BRONCHODILATOR REVERSIBILITY TEST
- Bronchodilator reversibility test
This test combines spirometry with the use of a bronchodilator, which is medicine to help open up your airways.
For this test, you’ll undergo a standard spirometry test to get a baseline measurement of how well your lungs are working. Then, after about 15 minutes, you’ll take a dose of bronchodilator medication and repeat the spirometry test. This screening is helpful in determining whether your current bronchodilator therapy is working or if it needs to be adjusted.