Medical myths: all about COPD

COPD is an umbrella term for a group of progressive respiratory conditions, all of which lead to difficulty breathing.

Two of the most common forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

The most common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath and cough. Over time, even everyday activities, like getting dressed, can become difficult.

In this article, we cover some of the most common myths associated with COPD. In order to ensure the accuracy of the information, we recruited two experts.

Dr Neil Schachter is Professor of Medicine – Pulmonary, Critical Care, Environmental Medicine, and Public Health – at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He is also the medical director of pulmonary rehabilitation at the Mount Sinai Health System.

Dr Shahryar Yadegar is an intensive care medicine specialist, pulmonologist and medical director of the intensive care unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in California.

1. COPD is rare
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COPD caused 3.23 million deaths from reliable sources in 2019, making it the third leading cause of death in the world.

Dr. Schachter explained that in the United States, COPD “is ​​the fourth leading cause of death. More than 16 million Americans are diagnosed.

Plus, as Dr Yadegar told Medical News Today, “millions more may go undiagnosed.”
2. Only smokers develop COPD
It is true that tobacco smoking is the main cause of COPD, but as Dr Schachter told MNT, “there are many other risk factors that contribute to the development of the disease, including air pollution. , work-related pollution, infections and some forms of asthma.

Going further, Dr Yadegar told us:

“About 10-20% of COPD patients have never smoked. Some of these never-smokers are highly exposed to second-hand smoke; genetic predisposition, mainly by alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency; or significant exposure to air pollution.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin is an enzyme that protects the body from immune attack. Some people have a mutation in the gene that codes for this enzyme; this causes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency increases the risk of developing COPD and other conditions that affect a range of body systems.

3. Only the elderly develop COPD
COPD is certainly more common in older people than in younger people, but younger people are not immune to the disease.

For example, in the United States, between 2007 and 2009, COPD affected 2% of trusted sources of men and 4.1% of women aged 24 to 44. Likewise, the disease affected 2% of men and 3% of women aged 18 to 24.

Dr. Schachter told us that a “significant proportion of those diagnosed before the age of 50” have an inherited form of the disease which causes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
4. COPD only affects the lungs
“Wrong,” said Dr. Schachter. “COPD coexists with many co-morbidities, including heart disease, lung cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis and diabetes. The association may be due to common causative factors, as well as “systemic inflammation”.

In other words, some of these conditions share risk factors, which makes them more likely to occur with COPD. For example, smoking is a risk factor for both COPD and heart disease.

At the same time, health experts link COPD with systemic inflammation, which can also independently increase the risk of other conditions.
5. People with COPD cannot exercise
According to Dr. Yadegar, “Without proper guidance, patients with COPD may have difficulty performing physical exercises. ”

However, he also explained that doctors recommend that people with COPD exercise because it can help “increase their breathing capacity and improve their daily symptoms.”

“Pulmonary rehabilitation programs typically offer guided breathing techniques combined with physical exercise to maximize the best outcomes for patients,” he continued.

In short, Dr Schachter told us that “exercise is therapeutic for COPD, reducing the number of exacerbations and improving quality of life.”
6. There is no cure for COPD
This, fortunately, is a myth. “There are many therapies and strategies that improve the course of the disease,” Dr. Schachter told MNT, “including drugs, rehabilitation, diet and vaccines that protect against respiratory infections that speed up the disease. ‘course of the disease’.

Dr Yadegar said, “With a range of presentations, patients can benefit from inhaled bronchodilators, anticholinergics, corticosteroids and supplemental oxygen. These, he said, can be tailored only to each person.

“Some patients may also benefit from an increase in alpha-1 antitrypsin or even from lung transplants,” he added.

7. COPD is the same as asthma
“Although both diseases are considered obstructive lung disease, there are several differences between COPD and asthma,” explained Dr. Yadegar.

“Asthma most often starts in childhood, where it is frequently associated with allergies and inflammation problems. COPD usually starts in the 1960s and is associated with smoking. There is, however, an overlap syndrome, which exhibits characteristics of both.

– Dr Neil Schachter

Dr Yadegar delved into the details: “COPD is a disease of the alveoli, primarily […] resulting from loss of elasticity induced primarily by smoking. Asthma is a disease of the respiratory tract, primarily […] resulting from chronic inflammation of the respiratory tract.

“Although clinical symptoms may overlap between the two diseases,” he continued, “treatments vary in order to best help patients in the short and long term.”
8. Body weight does not affect COPD
This is not true. Dr. Schachter told us that carrying excess weight can increase the disability associated with COPD.

Conversely, if people have a lower to moderate body weight, it can be “a sign of emphysema and also indicates a poor prognosis”.

9. If you have COPD, there is no point in stopping smoking
This is another myth. As Dr Schachter told MNT: “It’s never too late to quit.

He explained that “smoking accelerates the loss of lung function that accompanies COPD.” He also said that smoking tobacco can lead to the exacerbation of symptoms.

10. Shortness of breath is the only symptom of COPD
“Shortness of breath is a major symptom, but far from the only one,” according to Dr. Schachter.

“Coughing, excessive phlegm, respiratory infections and all the symptoms of co-morbidities are often signs of progression of COPD. ”

Other symptoms can include sleep problems, anxiety, depression, pain, and cognitive decline.

11. Healthy Eating Cannot Help With COPD
In fact, eating a healthy diet can make a difference for people with COPD. Dr Schachter told MNT that a healthy diet promotes “general health and may protect against exacerbations of COPD itself and its co-morbidities.”

For example, a 2020 meta-analysis of eight observational studies examined the role of diet in COPD. The authors conclude that “healthy eating habits are associated with a lower prevalence of COPD, unlike unhealthy eating habits”.

Likewise, data generated in another Trusted Source journal suggests that “a higher consumption of fruit, possibly dietary fiber and fish reduces the risk of COPD.”

In summary, while there is no cure for COPD, treatments are available and lifestyle changes can reduce the severity of symptoms. For more information on the causes, diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment of COPD, click here.

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