Understanding COPD

Recently, a talk about COPD was held at Makati Shangri La hotel. The discussion provided significant information about the cause and impact of COPD in Filipino families.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the 21st century. The Global Burden of Disease Study by the World Health Organization projected that COPD will become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2020.

In the Philippines, it ranks as the 7th leading cause of death with a prevalence rate of 13.8% in Manila. (2,3) Despite the high incidence of COPD in the Philippines, only 2% of the cases are diagnosed by doctors in contrast to the overall prevalence. (4) The cause of this under-diagnosis and under-treatment is probably due to lack of public health awareness of COPD in our country.

What is COPD?
COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The disease starts when harmful gases are inhaled and damage the lung’s airways and air sacs. These harmful gases maybe in the form of cigarette smoke, bio mass fuel (such as charcoal or firewood), air pollution and occupational dust. The damages in the lungs cause symptoms of breathlessness, cough and phlegm production.
There is a critical time of exposure before the damage starts.
It is never too late to quit smoking.
It is never too late to stop using firewood or charcoal in cooking.

What is the natural course of the disease?
The damage is usually slow and progressive. Lung function has a large reserve and therefore a patient may not feel anything until 20 to 50% of the lungs are damaged. The early stages of COPD are often unrecognized, in part because many individuals discount symptoms such as breathlessness, chronic cough and bringing up phlegm as a normal part of getting older or an expected consequence of cigarette smoking.
One-quarter to one-half of people with COPD do not know they have it. Finding COPD early gives the best chance to prevent further lung damage.
In people at risk for COPD, a simple, painless test called lung function testing (spirometry) can help diagnose the disease.
It is never to have a lung function test done.

Is COPD treatable?
COPD is a treatable disease.
It is never too late for a patient to seek medical consultation.
Pharmacological and non-pharmacological therapies are available to help people at all stages of disease feel better and live a more active life.
Pharmacological treatment includes drugs that dilates the airways (bronchodilators) and prevents further lung damage (anti-inflammatory drugs). These drugs if taken religiously are effective.
It is never too late to religious follow the prescription of your COPD doctor.
Non-pharmacological therapies include the following

  • Smoking cessation or continued noxious gas exposure prevention
  • Vaccination against flu and pneumonia
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the most effective treatments for a COPD patient. It involves patient going to the pulmonary rehab center wherein they exercise, gets education, advises and social support on how to cope up with disease and live a happy life.
  • It is never too late for a COPD patient to enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
  • Information for access to a pulmonary rehabilitation program can be obtained from the PCCP website.

Early detection of the disease and appropriate interventions are vital.  These can help slow down its advance and facilitate quality of life for the patient.  To quote 2014 World COPD Day’s theme:  IT’S NEVER TOO LATE