COPD: Don’t Get Used to Your Disease!

By John Allan Dvorak, Certified Respiratory Therapist

When it comes to lung disease, people naturally get used to their symptoms and downplay how serious their disease truly is.

“A lot of respiratory patients appear to have shortness of breath or they have difficulty breathing, yet when asked if they feel short of breath or if they are struggling to breathe, it is surprising how many will say, ‘No, I feel fine.’”

As a person’s lung disease progresses, their body naturally learns to compensate for the lack of oxygen and/or the high levels of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in their blood. The ability of the body to cope with lung disease is an amazing multi-organ operation. However, these methods of compensation wear on the organs over time. If you lack oxygen, the good gas in your blood, the tissue in your vital organs may fail or die. An increase of CO2, the bad gas made through metabolism, can have corrosive effects on your organs and lead to other serious diseases that involve the heart, the brain, and can wear out the kidneys. It can damage other cells in your organs that are vital to normal body function.

Since one’s perception of their own health is based upon how they feel, they tend to say they feel “fine” as long as they do not feel sharp, shooting pain or have a visible injury. Patients with lung disease can neither see the injury in their lungs and most times they do not have any sharp pain that accompanies their disease. As a result, they see their labored breathing and shortness of breath as normal and will say they feel fine.

In order to know if you have lung disease and how to fight its damaging effects, it is key to know the signs and symptoms of lung disease. By seeing a doctor when you are having the symptoms, you can prevent long-term organ damage and improve your breathing for a better and healthier you. The most common lung disorder is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

COPD signs and symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath during physical activities like walking, especially walking up hills or stairs
  • Wheezing, usually heard when exhaling
  • Chest tightness, often described as a heavy weight on your chest
  • Having to clear your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungs
  • A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
  • Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
  • Frequent respiratory infections (pneumonia)
  • Lack of energy because of lack of good sleep
  • Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
  • Swelling in ankles, feet, or legs

COPD is commonly diagnosed in people over 40 years old and is generally found in people who have a heavy smoking history or other chronic environmental exposures.

With COPD being the fourth leading cause of death in the world, don’t get used to your disease! You can breathe better and easier. Make an appointment to ask your doctor for treatment options – don’t wait any longer to breathe easier. Whether it is mild or severe, if you are having trouble breathing, it is important to find out the cause.

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