COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the leading cause of avoidable hospital admissions in Australia. With 310,700 people aged over 55 years diagnosed with COPD, that means 1 out of 7 Australians over 40 years of age have COPD and 1/2 do not know it.
COPD is a term which covers emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma. About 20% of people with COPD also have asthma, and this is known as COPD/Asthma overload syndrome.
So what is COPD?
COPD is a narrowing of the breathing tubes or airways, that makes it harder to breathe. While COPD cannot be cured, it can be managed so that people with COPD can be relieved of their breathlessness, and live long and active lives.
Many people with COPD may not notice there is anything out of the ordinary about their breathing. Your GP might think of testing you for COPD if you have a cough that wont resolve, breathlessness or sputum production, or you don’t get back to your usual self after a chest infection. Those who are over 35 and have a history of smoking or are current smokers should definitely be tested for COPD.
The test for COPD is to have spirometry. This is a test performed by our nursing staff in the surgery. If this test suggests that you have COPD, your GP will begin to treat your breathing problems. So what can be done to treat those with COPD?
First of all they should quit smoking, and avoid passive smoke from others. This will do more to build healthy lungs than anything else. Even those in the very late stages of lung disease will be less breathless if they quit smoking – its a good idea at any stage! Next, your GP will help you optimise your lung function by:
– offering medications, such as puffers that open up the airways, or reduce mucous production.
– referring you to pulmonary rehab to learn the best way to breathe to make the most of your lung function.
– possibly referring you to a respiratory physician if needed.
The next goal is preventing your lungs getting any worse. Infections can make your lungs worse, so your GP will offer you a yearly influenza vaccination, and 5 yearly pneumococcal vaccination. If you get sick with a chest infection, you should see your GP immediately for treatment.
Living with COPD requires planning. So your GP will offer to make you a care plan, and a COPD action plan. In this plan you will be given all the instructions and scripts so you know when your COPD is playing up, when to start treating yourself at home, and when to go to the GP and the hospital. As you learn to manage the flare up, visits to the hospital should be reduced.
Travelling with COPD can also require planning. If your lung function is half or less of what it should be, oxygen may be required to fly, and this might require a collaboration between your GP and specialist, so be sure to think ahead if you are in this situation.
Finally, there have been lots of change and advances in the management of COPD. So if you have been living with chronic breathlessness or cough, thinking not much can be done, revisit your GP – there is more help than you think!
The information on this website does not replace medical advice. Medical and scientific information provided in print and electronically by Blackbutt Doctors and WS Health Services might or might not be relevant to your own circumstances and should always be discussed with your own doctor before you act on it.