HEALTH INFORMATION FROM DPP
Then you need to know about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
What you need to know about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Ever run out of puff halfway up the stairs? Found yourself wheezing when you really meant to laugh? Coughed up phlegm when you don't even have a cold? If you smoke, ever have, or you are around smoke a lot, chances are you can answer ‘yes’. Chances are you also know these are not healthy signs. But what you probably didn't know is that they could be early signs of COPD – which is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. If COPD is news to you, you’re not alone. Very few of us are familiar with this increasingly common lung disease even though it kills more than 20 times as many people as asthma. Smoking is the main cause, but 1 in 5 people with COPD get it without ever having smoked. This booklet will explain about the condition, describe the symptoms and offer sources of support to help you reduce your risk by cutting out smoking and getting the help you need.
What is COPD?
COPD is not a single disease, but a group of conditions (including chronic bronchitis and emphysema) that damage the lungs, blocking the passage of air in and out, and making it difficult to breathe. COPD decreases the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide when we breathe. As the disease gets worse, small airways within the walls of the lungs become less elastic. Finally, the airways collapse, and become clogged with mucus. Although air continues to reach the lungs when you breathe in, it becomes trapped, making it difficult and uncomfortable to breathe out.
FACT: Up to three
million people in the UK are estimated to have COPD at any one time.
airway with COPD
Who gets COPD? Are you at risk?
It’s simple. If you smoke, you are at risk. But even if you don’t, you may be affected. Smoking is the major cause of COPD, and four out of five cases are smoking related. Genetic factors can affect the way that smoke and other factors such as air pollution can damage the lungs.
FACT: Female smokers are nearly 13 times more likely to die
from COPD as women who have never smoked. Male smokers are nearly 12 times more likely to die from COPD as men who have never smoked. “I gave up smoking because I was worried about cancer. I hadn’t even heard of COPD and didn’t know I was at risk. It would have encouraged me to give up earlier if I had known.” Jason North, ex-smoker, aged 35
Spotting the symptoms
Smokers often overlook COPD symptoms thinking ‘smoker’s cough’ and general breathlessness are just par for the course – the ‘natural’ side-effects of smoking, or ‘normal’ signs of getting older. In many cases, however, they could be the earliest signs of COPD. Common symptoms of COPD include: • ‘wet’ cough, usually accompanied by a lot of phlegm • tightness in the chest • shortness of breath (particularly in cold weather and in the mornings) • wheezing with mild exertions, like climbing stairs • frequent clearing of the throat • chest infections with phlegm becoming yellow or green. A cough can occur quite a long time before breathlessness occurs. The breathlessness of COPD can cause panic. Some people describe it as like ‘drowning on land’.
COPD causes one-fifth of the UK's annual smoking-related deaths.
How is COPD diagnosed?
If you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, seek advice from a health professional as soon as possible. Your condition may not be caused by COPD, so you will need to be properly assessed by a GP, practice nurse or occupational health nurse (if you work and have an occupational health service). If COPD is suspected, they will need to check your lung function using a spirometer, which tests how much ‘puff’ you have in your lungs. Practice nurses and occupational health nurses usually carry out the spirometry test, and all you have to do is blow into a machine which measures your breathing over a specified time. Other tests may be required to rule out other causes of COPD-like symptoms. These include chest X-rays and blood tests, and are most likely to be required to confirm a COPD diagnosis made as a result of a spirometry test. Don’t be shy; smokers sometimes feel guilty or embarrassed about seeking help for a condition they think they might have ‘brought upon themselves’ by smoking, but doctors would much rather they get help early and there is a lot your surgery can do to help you manage the condition.
Take action now
It’s important that you don’t put off getting tested. COPD is a progressive disease. This means it gets worse over time. It also means that the sooner you give up smoking and get help, the more you increase your chances of reducing the effect of the disease on your life. There is no cure for COPD and it can lead to death in some cases. The good news is it can be looked after effectively, especially if caught early. No matter what age you are, if you’ve ever smoked and have been experiencing breathlessness or a cough with phlegm for a few weeks, seek medical advice. Even smokers in their early twenties with a ‘smoker’s cough’ could be experiencing the early stages of COPD, although it could have other causes. Once you have symptoms, continuing to smoke and failing to get treatment leads to increased breathlessness and more chest infections. As the disease worsens, too little oxygen reaches the lungs, leaving the heart in short supply. This can make it difficult for the heart to work properly and can lead to heart failure.
Most of the 25,000 deaths from COPD flare-ups each year could have been prevented through early detection.
If you smoke, give up
The single most effective way to prevent COPD – or to stop it getting worse if you already have it – is not to smoke. Any damage already done to your airways can't be reversed, but stopping smoking usually prevents the disease from progressing. Remember, it is NEVER too late to stop smoking, the benefits of quitting increase over time, and even people with advanced COPD tend to benefit from giving up. When you do give up, you might find any cough gets worse for a while as your airways recover. Don’t make the mistake of starting smoking again to ease the cough!
Support to quit
There are at least 12 million people in the UK today who have given up smoking. Many needed more than one attempt at quitting for good, but each try taught them more about themselves and their habit, making the next attempt easier. There are so many sources of help and support for people trying to give up that it can be hard to know where to turn first. Here are a few suggestions: • Any GP, practice nurse, health visitor, occupational health nurse or midwife (if you’re pregnant) can offer advice and information about stop smoking services or treatments like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that are available on prescription. • Pharmacists can provide on-the-spot advice and treatment without the need to book an appointment. • The NHS Stop Smoking Service free helpline (0800 169 0 169) is open between 7am and 11pm every day for information requests and referrals, with unlimited access to trained advisors giving one-to-one advice and support from 10am. Further information is available at www.givingupsmoking.co.uk • Other helplines and advice sources include Quitline (call free on 0800 00 22 00, www.quit.org.uk or use QUIT’S counselling by email service firstname.lastname@example.org) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) www.ash.org.uk
Besides reducing your risk of COPD giving up smoking has many other benefits: • Your energy levels tend to soar after 3 days off the cigarettes, and breathing becomes much easier. You could take advantage of this by building up the amount of exercise you do. • Your taste buds and sense of smell improve after just two days of being smoke-free. Make the most of this by making sure your diet is packed with tasty fruit and veg and plenty of fluids. • Passive smoking can have a big impact on the health of children. Children who live with smokers are much more likely to smoke themselves, suffer asthma attacks and chest infections and have a higher risk of cot death and meningitis. • Smoking can cause premature ageing of the skin with smokers in their 40s often as wrinkly as non-smokers in their 60s.
Getting help to manage the disease
There is a lot your doctor or nurse can do to help and advise you to help manage the disease and improve your quality of life. • Regular exercise tends to improve breathing and ease other symptoms. Pulmonary (lung) rehabilitation programmes can help people with COPD to stay active and exercise to prevent flare-ups which helps to improve quality of life. • If you are overweight any weight loss can help to ease the symptoms of breathlessness and so improve sleep. Your doctor or nurse can advise you on healthy weight loss. • Inhalers are commonly prescribed to reduce breathlessness and may help prevent flare ups of COPD. Medicines which thin mucus (mucolytics) can help troublesome coughs. Other treatments such as steroids, antibiotics and oxygen can help people with flare ups of COPD or help people with more severe COPD. • Surgery can help in a small number of cases. Remember the earlier you seek help, the more your doctor or nurse will be able to do. Treatment for COPD is often carried out at your local GP surgery.
Further information about COPD
British Lung Foundation: www.lunguk.org Helpline 08458 50 50 20
The Breathe Easy Network: Breathe Easy is the support network of the British Lung Foundation providing information, support and friendship to all people living with a lung condition, their family, friends and carers. For further details, and your nearest group, visit: www.lunguk.org/supporting-you/breathe-easy
Information on a wide range of health topics, including COPD, is available from the NHS Direct website at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk; on NHS Direct Interactive on digital satellite TV (simply press the interactive button on your remote control), or by calling NHS Direct on 0845 4647*
*Calls are charged at BT local rates. Calls from mobiles and other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. For patients’ safety, calls to NHS Direct are recorded.
This leaflet contains general information produced by DPP: Developing Patient Partnerships which can be used as the first step to help you decide the best course of action to take when you or your family are not well. In the absence of any examination it is not possible to reliably diagnose and treat a medical condition. Diagnosis can only be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional after a consultation. The advice and guidance in the leaflet is the responsibility of DPP. © Developing Patient Partnerships, June 2006, Tavistock House, TavistockSquare, London,WC1H 9JP. Registered Charity No. 1075105. Company No.3700340. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form without the permission of the copyright holder.
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