Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common, preventable, and treatable chronic lung disease. Though there is no cure, pulmonologist Laren Tan, MD, MBA, says being honest with your doctor about your smoking habits early on can slow the progression of COPD and reduce flare-ups.
Smoking causes an acute increase in blood pressure and heart rate by damaging the blood vessel walls and narrowing the arteries, forcing the heart to work harder. When healthcare providers check vitals and investigate illness, they need to know if symptoms are attributed to smoking habits or are a sign of another health issue. Smoking can also negatively interact with some medications prescribed by your doctor. Ultimately, lying about smoking habits can negatively impact your overall healthcare treatment.
“Some patients who smoke are ashamed of their habit and aren’t honest with their family or physicians,” Tan says. “We are not judging you; we want to help you.”
What really is COPD?
COPD is an umbrella term for diseases that prevent proper breathing, the two most common being emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases can, and often, occur together and vary in severity.
Chronic bronchitis is long-term inflammation of the breathing tubes and presents with a cough, mucus in cough, wheezing, and chest discomfort.
Emphysema is the damaged air sacs in the lungs, often leading the sacs to weaken and rupture – creating larger air spaces and affecting the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. Early signs of emphysema are similar to chronic bronchitis: cough, mucus, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
The leading cause of both diseases is smoking.
Stop putting off quitting
Though quitting smoking is a positive step, lung damage caused by COPD cannot be reversed. Current treatment options aim to prevent further damage, ease some symptoms, and reduce the risk of complications.
A few complications of COPD include pneumonia and other chest infections, collapsed lung, heart problems, osteoporosis, lack of oxygen to the brain, and breathlessness leading to a sedentary lifestyle.
Cigarette smoking causes up to 90% of COPD cases, but environmental and genetic factors make up the difference. Long-term exposure to air pollutants like smoke, dust, fumes, and chemicals can lead to COPD. Around 1% of cases come from a rare genetic condition called alpha-1 deficiency-related emphysema.
Treatment options at LLUH
- Prescription of medication, oral pills, and inhalers to manage symptoms and decrease their severity
- Oxygen therapy
- BLVR procedure for severe cases
- Lung Cancer Screening Program
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
The pulmonary rehabilitation program is a holistic approach for guiding and encouraging patients after diagnoses. This program allows patients to regain strength by exercising and building relationships with others also living with COPD.
Tan recommends COPD patients follow up with their primary care physicians or pulmonologists yearly.
If you are a long-term smoker with possible symptoms of COPD, see your primary care physician and ask for a referral to the Advanced Lung Disease Center.