Exacerbation of COPD
To define COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, we need to understand that while it is one of the diseases that many people fear, having COPD does not necessarily mean being given a death sentence.
What is COPD?
COPD is one of the most common lung diseases worldwide. It blocks normal breathing processes. The National Library of Medicine, in its A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, identified two main forms of COPD:
- chronic bronchitis, which features mucus-laden cough that occurs long-term, and
- emphysema, that causes damage to the lungs
Most people with COPD experience a combination of both medical conditions.
What Causes COPD?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco smoke is the main cause of COPD. This is regardless of whether tobacco smoke is directly inhaled, or inhaled as second-hand smoke (from those who smoke in the
English: A chest X-ray demonstrating severe COPD. Note the small size of the heart in comparison to the lungs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Aside from smoking, there are other risk factors for developing COPD. These include:
- indoor and outdoor air pollution
- occupational dusts and chemicals and,
- frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood
While as of yet, no cure has been found for COPD, it is highly possible to improve the quality of life of someone with the disease through the provision of proper and adequate medical care, and more importantly, a change in lifestyle.
Therefore, when we define COPD, we need to include the fact that exacerbation of COPD does not necessarily have to happen as an expected part of the progress of the disease. In fact, exacerbation of COPD can, and should be avoided, in order to help enable those with COPD to continue being active and to breathe in a different way.
What is COPD Exacerbation?
The word “exacerbation” means an increase or aggravation of a condition or situation. Exacerbation of COPD therefore means a “flare-up” or the worsening of COPD symptoms. Knowing exactly what to look for when trying to determine if COPD is being exacerbated or not, can greatly help to ease the difficulties encountered by someone with COPD, as well as possibly even save his or her life.
These are the signs to look out for in exacerbation of COPD:
- shortness of breath, even with hardly any physical activity being done
- noisy breathing, such as wheezing, whistling, gurgling, or rattling in the breath
- increased anxiety due to difficulty in breathing; the anxiety serves to worsen breathing as well, making it a cruel cycle
- breathing from the chest, instead of the abdomen; breathing becomes more irregular, either too fast, or too slow
- more severe or more frequent coughing; cough may be dry or have bloody, greenish, or yellowish phlegm; lying down worsens the coughing, relief is attained only when one sits up
- when exacerbation is happening, the nails may become bluish or purplish; the same for the edges of the lips; the complexion may become grayish – these are all due to a lack of oxygen getting in the lungs
- lack of interest in, or inability to eat and/or sleep
- inability to speak properly; using hand gestures to communicate
- morning headaches caused by the presence of carbon dioxide in the blood
- swollen ankles and legs; abdominal pain
It is important to note that many of the signs of exacerbation of COPD may also be symptoms of other medical conditions.
To be much more certain of how to define COPD properly and recognize signs of exacerbation, make sure to consult a medical professional at the soonest possible time.