Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is swiftly becoming one of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States alone during 2002 there were 124,816 deaths related to COPD. By the year 2020, it is estimated that COPD will be the third leading cause of death in both males and females. It is essential that individuals educate themselves on the causes and risks of COPD as well as the measures they can take to treat COPD should they develop this disease. COPD is caused by smoking or long-term exposure to certain occupational fumes or irritants. The only way to slow the process of COPD is to quit smoking or change occupations because once you are diagnosed with COPD there is no cure. However, there are certain treatments and medications for COPD that will help you cope with the symptoms of COPD and lead a productive life.
Since COPD is a severe and progressive form of chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema, the medications that are used to treat COPD are similar to those to treat these two diseases. COPD causes a decreased ability to breathe because airways become inflamed and block the flow of air through the lungs. The lungs have become damaged due to smoking or other causes and do not work properly to move the air through them. This causes shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, excess mucus and the inability to perform even small physical tasks. Medications can treat these symptoms and help patients continue to perform physical tasks.
Bronchodilators (ipratropium bromide and albuterol) are used to relax airways so that the patient can breathe easier and reduce shortness of breath. There are many types of bronchodilators currently used and a physician should decide the course of treatment. Many physicians will begin by treating the short term symptoms and move to more aggressive forms of bronchodilators if the short-term medications are not controlling the symptoms.
To reduce inflammation, patients take anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids, both oral and inhaled, which will also help with the shortness of breath and ease breathing. Typically, patients will take daily doses of steroids to help control the symptoms of COPD since a constant daily dose provides the best results in treating COPD.
In severe cases of COPD, as with my father-in-law, some patients may have to be treated with long-term oxygen. The more severe the COPD the more oxygen is required even to complete small physical tasks. This is typically found in patients that have had long term COPD that has progressively worsened and has not responded to other treatments.
Patients with COPD will often also take antibiotics because they are at a higher risk of infection. There is some debate as to whether antibiotics should be prescribed long term or not and your physician should discuss all of the risks involved with this type of long-term treatment.
The most important treatment for COPD is education and medical attention. Patients with COPD should consult with their physician and report any changes in their symptoms or condition immediately. With the proper treatment, COPD patients can mange they symptoms and patients should discuss all options thoroughly with their physician before deciding on what course of treatment is best for them.
Sources: COPD International