Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a term used to describe progressive lung diseases that cause air-flow blockages and breathing problems. COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis.
More than 30 million people in the United States are affected by COPD, yet more than half don’t know they have it.
“That may sound hard to believe,” says Dr. Kevin Strait, Medical Director of Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital. “But COPD may cause no symptoms or only very mild symptoms like coughing at first, so people may ignore them thinking they’re not serious. Usually more prominent symptoms like breathlessness don’t occur until significant lung damage has occurred.”
COPD is usually caused by inhaling tobacco smoke. But the inhalation of other pollutants such as fumes, chemicals and dust, or genetics and respiratory infections also can be linked to COPD. Common symptoms of the disease include:
Persistent cough or a cough that produces large amounts of mucus
Shortness of breath
Feeling winded after activities that weren’t difficult in the past
Strait suggests that individuals visit their doctors if they experience these symptoms. The most common test to confirm COPD is spirometry, which measures how much air is inhaled, and how much and how quickly air is exhaled. Other tests may include a chest X-ray, chest CT scan, or an arterial blood gas test.
“Most people have mild forms of COPD, which can be controlled with smoking cessation,” Strait says. “For those with more advanced stages, there are effective medications and therapies available to help control symptoms and improve a person’s ability to lead an active lifestyle.”
Even with ongoing treatments, however, individuals with COPD may experience exacerbations or episodes where their symptoms become worse than usual and persist for several days.
“At these times, it’s important to get prompt medical help,” Strait says. “An acute exacerbation can lead to complications like respiratory infections and even respiratory failure. Respiratory failure occurs when there isn’t enough oxygen passing from the lungs into the body’s bloodstream to allow the body’s organs—such as the heart and brain—to function properly. Respiratory failure also can occur if a patient’s lungs can’t remove carbon dioxide—a waste gas—from the blood.”
For individuals who experience respiratory failure, nationally recognized care is available in Post Falls through Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital. The hospital has earned The Joint Commission’s disease-specific certification in Respiratory Failure.
“This is significant because it means that we are providing the highest level of respiratory failure care available in the nation right here in our own community,” Strait says. “We hope that individuals with COPD don’t reach the point of needing these services, but if they do, we’re prepared to help them heal as completely as possible.”
Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital is a 40-bed, free-standing facility providing long-term acute care and critical care services for patients recovering from serious illnesses or chronic medical conditions. NIACH.ernesthealth.com.