If you have difficulty exhaling, you may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a group of lung diseases that are known for blocking airflow making it difficult for a person to breathe. Emphysema, chronic asthmatic bronchitis is two diseases in this category. Unfortunately, COPD is a leading cause of death and individuals with a long-term history of smoking are at high risk. The damage caused to your lungs by smoking cannot be undone once you start to suffer from COPD and is responsible for the resultant difficulty in breathing.
The signs and symptoms of COPD vary from one person to the next. Typically all people with COPD experience more than one of the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Many people diagnosed with COPD were previously diagnosed with chronic asthmatic bronchitis or emphysema and some may even suffer from both of these diseases. Chronic asthmatic bronchitis is when a person has an increased mucus production, inflammation and narrowing of the airways which causes the person to cough and wheeze. A person with emphysema has damaged alveoli (tiny air sacs), which reduces the amount of surface area on the lungs in which to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The alveoli walls are also weaker which may cause them to collapse during exhalation, trapping the air inside. This trapping of air causes the symptom of shortness of breath.
Adults exposed to air pollution, chemical fumes, dust, and tobacco smoke over a long time can be at risk for COPD. Another risk factor for COPD is age. COPD develops over a span of years with symptoms starting to appear around age 40 in some people. Genetics may plan a role in COPD because researchers suspect a rare genetic disorder known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is a cause of some of the cases of COPD.
Individuals diagnosed with COPD are susceptible to respiratory infections such as pneumonia, which can further damage the lungs and make it more difficult for them to breathe. Other complications for those with COPD are high blood pressure. If high blood pressure occurs this could put a strain on the right ventricle of the heart, which will then cause the legs and ankles to swell. COPD increases a person’s risk for heart disease, heart attack, and depression. People become depressed because of the difficulty in breathing, inability to be physically active or to do activities that they did in the past. This can make a person extremely sad about life and about their health.