Individuals who present with the above symptoms and have been exposed to several of COPD risk factors are considered suspected cases. These cases are then confirmed through various diagnostic tests:
- Spirometry, which is a test to see how much air your lungs can hold and how much you can blow out
- Chest X-rays to determine your lung’s physical condition
- CT scans to rule out lung cancer or to determine if surgery is needed
- Arterial blood gas test to measure how efficient your lung is in bringing oxygen into your body and carbon dioxide out
- Other laboratory tests to confirm whether or not you have other underlying illnesses or genetic disorders (such as the lack of alpha 1 antitrypsin)
Your physician will be able to gauge your condition in one of several stages based on the severity of your symptoms, which will be used to prescribe treatments that will work best at a specific stage. This measurement of the stages of COPD is called the GOLD System, developed by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, which the World Health Organization established in 1997.
These stages vary on certain factors: spirometry results, the severity and prognosis of the condition, and any pre-existing health problems that might affect recovery from COPD, and are classified under four stages:
- GOLD 1, or Mild COPD; You will likely have very minimal symptoms and mistake your conditions as being related to other illnesses
- GOLD 2, or Moderate COPD; Symptoms are more apparent, and you may experience minor difficulty breathing at this point
- GOLD 3, or Severe COPD; Where your lungs are at less than half capacity and are more prone to infections and diseases
- GOLD 4, or Very Severe COPD; You’re likely experiencing shortness of breath even during rest, with your lungs functioning at less than 30 percent of their capacity
While COPD is not curable, there are a number of treatment options meant to manage symptoms and improve the quality of life of patients with COPD.
These include prescribed lifestyle changes, as well as medications used to ease the symptoms and delay the onset or worsening of your condition. In extreme cases, surgical options may also be prescribed, such as bullectomy, lung volume reduction (LVRS) and lung transplantation.
Generally, the first thing your physician will encourage you to do is to quit smoking if you still are, or avoid contact with people and environments that expose you to tobacco and other pollutants known to cause COPD.
Because COPD is irreversible, avoiding risk factors early on upon diagnosis will greatly improve your outlook. A strict rehabilitation program might also be included, where you will have to follow strict diet and exercise programs meant to keep you active and healthy.
For moderate cases or those progressing into the more severe stages of COPD, medical intervention may be needed. These may include some of the following:
- Inhalers that may have bronchodilators, corticosteroids, or both, to help with breathing difficulties
- Antibiotics, for patients who might gain bacterial infections due to their conditions
- Flu or pneumonia vaccines, to help you avoid contracting these conditions which might worsen COPD
- In severe cases, Oxygen therapy, which will help improve the breathing quality of patients that have severely reduced lung capacity.
For severe cases of COPD, doctors might suggest the possibility of surgery to address the root cause of COPD in your lungs:
- Bullectomy, which is a procedure to remove large spaces that may form when your alveoli get sufficiently damaged and collapse
- Lung volume reduction surgery to remove necrotic or dead lung tissue
- Lung transplant, to replace a nonfunctioning lung with a healthy one.
These procedures also have their own risks, and might not be applicable for all COPD patients. At the end of the day, the best way to manage this illness is to keep away from risk factors such that your chances of developing COPD or worsening an existing condition becomes lower.
Prevention and Management
Aside from knowing important facts about COPD, adopting certain lifestyle changes can help prevent and manage COPD. Some examples are the following:
- Avoiding smoking or stopping immediately if you are, since this is maintly the most important risk factor of COPD.
- Managing your environment. Keep your indoor air quality clean by avoiding the use of chemicals that might affect air quality, or avoiding the use of solid fuel indoors such as charcoal, etc.
- Wearing necessary protection if you need to be in contact with possible contaminants
- Keep a healthy, consistent exercise routine
- Have regular check-ups and monitor your lung health
As with any illness, managing one’s exposure to risk factors will help minimize the risk of conditions that might eventually lead to COPD.
For those living with the condition, always remembering the important facts about COPD and keeping a positive mindset and a disciplined approach can help control and manage symptoms in order to improve overall health.