Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Deadly Lung Diseases that Affect Millions

COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. COPD claims well over one hundred thousand lives each year, with eighty to ninety percent of those individuals being smokers. COPD refers to a pair of conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, that affect the person's lungs, making it harder and harder for them to breathe. COPD is one of this country's most rapidly growing health problems, with sixteen million people suffering from chronic bronchitis and another two million with emphysema.

Although the primary cause of COPD is smoking, it can also be brought about by exposure to air pollution, second-hand smoke, certain industrial pollutants, and some inherited conditions. COPD costs Americans almost forty billion dollars a year in related health care costs. COPD is more common in men, but women are making strides in this race that neither sex wants to emerge victorious in, as more and more women develop COPD, a result of the increase in women smokers after World War II. COPD patients have a poor quality of life in the majority of cases, and the toll that COPD can take on family and loved ones can be devastating.

Someone with chronic bronchitis will experience chronic inflammation of the large air tubes of the respiratory system as a result of the steady exposure to cigarette smoke. This inflammation causes these bronchial airways to narrow, and glands in the lining of these airways secrete excess mucus, causing even more narrowing, with airflow being blocked. This form of COPD will produce a constant cough that will produce sputum composed mainly of mucus, along with a shortness of breath. COPD increases the chance of infection, as chronic bronchitis victims have damaged cilia in their lungs. These minute hairs are responsible for ridding the airways of foreign particles and bacteria, but when they cannot do their job, infections can take hold. Chronic bronchitis worsens over time, and the person afflicted with it often does not realize how serious the problem is

COPD caused by emphysema sees the individual distressed with the condition overproduce an enzyme called elastase. This is a consequence of smoking, and it results in irreversible harm to a protein in the lungs that maintains the structure of the walls of these organs. Emphysema patients find themselves with less elastic lungs than non-smokers, and they transfer less and less oxygen to the bloodstream because of this. COPD from emphysema victims have a great deal of trouble exhaling, as they cannot keep their airways open. Over ninety percent of those with emphysema are older than forty-five, with most of those older than sixty-five showing that the disease is the result of long-term smoking. Symptoms include coughing and extreme shortness of breath, and those with emphysema cannot tolerate much exercise at all. Those with chronic bronchitis can develop emphysema later on, and both diseases can cause respiratory failure as the blood has an awfully low level of oxygen in it, and elevated carbon dioxide amounts.

As COPD progresses in a patient, they often require supplemental oxygen to be able to breathe. Half of those with COPD will see it affect their ability to work, and seventy percent of these people will be unable to exert themselves normally. COPD treatments cannot cure the condition; they can only help to lessen the symptoms, which will worsen over time. Bronchodilator medications are employed to open airways to allow somewhat easier breathing and can be inhaled in aerosol form or taken orally. COPD patients are extremely vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia and influenza, which ultimately will take their lives, as their resistance to them is incredibly compromised. Vaccinations and antibiotics help towards this end. Corticosteroids can help to block inflammation of the airways and are usually inhaled.

Lung transplants have been successful in some end-stage COPD patients, enabling them to live a little bit longer. Lung volume reduction surgery removes the damaged areas of the lungs and joins the remaining regions together, with a mortality rate of fifteen in a hundred and many complications. The quicker COPD is diagnosed, the better the prognosis for those that are found to have it. Quitting smoking is imperative for those with COPD, as the average survival rate for people who are diagnosed with this disease after they have lost over half of their lung functions is under ten years, but much, much less if they insist on continuing to smoke.

By: Lindell

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