COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)
The New Name for Asthma, Bronchitis & Emphysema
Most of us are familiar with the main causes of death in this country, heart disease and cancer. Although the statistics get juggled around, if you combine the two they actually account for 60 percent of all deaths every year in Canada.
They receive a tremendous amount of publicity and a great amount of funding and for most of us are the two main diseases to try and avoid. We have runs, walks, pink ribbons, blue ribbons, paper hearts and most of us want to do our part to eradicate these diseases.
However, right behind these two killers lurks the next leading cause of death in Canada, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) which includes a variety of diseases such as emphysema, asthma and bronchitis.
When we do our runs, walks and fundraising for heart disease and cancer, lung cancer, the deadliest of all is sadly neglected. None of us feels like donating our time, money or effort to that dreaded class of people known as smokers or former smokers. Unfortunately all lung diseases are tainted by the same brush even though in many cases many of these people never smoked a cigarette.
COPD is Canada’s forgotten killer and death is only part of the story. It is estimated that 3 million Canadians suffer from COPD and a new report published in the Canadian Thoracic Society shows that more people are being admitted to Canadian hospitals with COPD than any other major illness. That actually includes heart attacks and the number has been sharply increasing for years.
People with COPD have severe flare-ups in which the bronchioles of their lungs usually become so constricted that they can hardly breathe. These attacks usually require frequent and lengthy hospital stays lasting an average of 10 days which consume a large part of the budget for health in the province of Ontario. The latest statistics show that most people with COPD end up in the hospital at least once a year; one in five make two visits, and one in seven have three or more visits annually.
As many as one in three COPD patients do not get out alive, a testament to the severity of this illness. The strange thing is that the mortality for COPD continues to rise while the incidence of smoking continues to decline.
Although many people with COPD are smokers or former smokers, it appears that the environment is playing a greater role. A study I read in the seventies compared the lungs of smokers in Toronto to the lungs of non-smokers in Sudbury, home of the polluting nickel plant. There was almost no difference. Imagine how bad it would be for a smoker living near Sudbury. Hamilton has one of the highest incidences of COPD in Canada and yet the percentage of smokers in Hamilton is no higher than any other major city. The reason may be due to the huge amount of pollution over the years produced by plants like Stelco and Defasco.
Many sufferers require supplementary oxygen 24 hours a day and cannot even leave their house without taking along a portable oxygen tank.
When your body is deprived of oxygen because of the inefficiency of your lungs, your heart and brain are also deprived of oxygen and many COPD patients will develop heart disease, strokes and dementia.
Since breathing difficulty can be a symptom of COPD or heart disease, it is very important to get all the required tests in order to find out what you have. This means that if you have problems breathing your physician must not only send you to a respirologist but also to a heart specialist for tests.
Researchers estimate that almost half the people in Canada with COPD are undiagnosed. Spirometry, a test of lung function, is currently the only way to diagnose COPD and can be done routinely in the office of your family doctor. The Canadian Thoracic Society recommends spirometry for everyone over 40 who smokes, or has smoked and has a symptom such as breathlessness, wheezing, cough or persistent phlegm.
Many patients who even arrive at hospitals with these conditions will be treated for congestive heart failure, may given antibiotics for pneumonia or be given a couple of prescription inhalers and sent home. The low profile of this disease causes it to be easily overlooked by emergency room physicians.
These misdiagnoses may even be one of the causes for the number of return visits by people who actually have COPD.
Medical Treatment versus Natural Treatment
If you are correctly diagnosed with some form of COPD your physician will usually prescribe two inhalers. The first one contains a corticosteroid which reduces inflammation of your lungs combined with a long-acting beta 2 agonist which when used together is supposed to prevent bronchial constriction attacks. The second inhaler will be salbutamol which is a fast-acting beta 2 agonist to be used in the event of an attack in which you cannot catch your breath. If your condition is very severe you may be given high doses of prednisone for a short period of time. This drug is very dangerous and includes many side effects such as bone deterioration, water retention causing “moon face” and stomach ulcers. It relieves symptoms almost immediately and is very effective, however if your physician insists you take a low dose every day for an extended period of time, you will most definitely suffer all the side-effects
Since fluids easily accumulate in the lungs of COPD patients they should get a pneumonia vaccine from their physician and very often will have antibiotics prescribed for them for lower and upper respiratory infections.
For those people who want to stay away from drugs there are some natural treatments available in the health food store but you must use these products with caution and only for minor symptoms. One of the most popular products used for bronchial constriction is called Respiractin, a combination of natural herbs that relaxes bronchioles and allows for easier breathing. A second product is a combination of Chinese herbs in a product called Clear Lungs. I have no idea how these herbs work but many people seem to have a great deal of success with this product. Another product is actually an old-fashioned cough syrup made by Natural Factors called Anti-Cold which contains eight different herbs in a honey base and is very effective for dilating bronchioles and suppressing a cough.
Taking precautions against bronchial constrictions is very important because once you have an attack it is very difficult to get your breathing under control. When you go out in the cold you must cover your mouth to stop cold air from entering your lungs. The cold air will constrict your bronchioles and could precipitate an attack. On vacation avoid mountainous regions high above sea level where the amount of oxygen in the air is very low. You must keep yourself under control mentally. If you allow stress in the form of anger or any type of excitement, your lungs could seize up in an instant. If a situation presents itself that could cause you undue stress, you must avoid any confrontation that could trigger an attack. If you do have an attack try breathing in and out of a paper bag. Breathing back in your warm carbon dioxide relaxes your lungs and will eventually get your attack under control.
COPD is a very debilitating disease. If you can manage with natural prevention and treatment you would be doing very well. However, you need to be able to breathe and if you need prescription drugs to help you it is all right to use whatever means you have at your disposal in order to lead a normal life. Do not try to be a hero and wind up in the hospital. If you do have to take medication there are many natural ways to alleviate or prevent some of the side-effects. However, if you find yourself in a situation in which you cannot breathe then get yourself to emergency as soon as possible.