Diagnosis of smoker's lung: the number of diseases is increasing continuously Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), popularly known as "smoker's lung", is on the rise worldwide. According to estimates by the Hannover Medical School (MHH), around five million Germans are affected by the COPD, with one in eight people over the age of 40 suffering from COPD. Such respiratory diseases worldwide are the widespread disease with the fourth highest death rate, and the trend is rising.
COPD increasing worldwide Among the ten most common fatal diseases worldwide, COPD are the only ones whose incidence is still increasing. If left untreated, COPD usually leads to premature death. COPD must be understood as a systemic disease in which the heart, muscles, blood vessels and bones are also affected in addition to the respiratory tract.
Initially, the disease is characterized by the relatively harmless symptom of the mucus-filled airways. Especially after getting up, the typical "smoker's cough" begins, with yellowish, sometimes brownish mucus. The bronchi narrow continuously as the disease progresses. For the time being, patients only lack the air during physical exertion or during sport, but over time climbing stairs becomes torture and later those affected have difficulty breathing with every step. These three most noticeable symptoms of COPD, the discolored sputum, the cough and shortness of breath during exercise, are known in the professional world as "AHA symptoms", which clearly indicate a corresponding illness of the respiratory tract. "Death (as a result of COPD) would be a very unpleasant one - suffocation", emphasized in this connection the director of the pneumology department at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), Dr. Tobias Welte.
Smoking as the main cause of the disease According to the MHH experts, the main cause of COPD is still smoking, because nine out of ten patients were or are smokers. The more you smoke, the higher the risk of COPD. "Even with the first cigarette, there is an acute inflammation, which can then become chronic," emphasized Dr. Jens Hohlfeld, lung specialist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine in Hanover and Dr. Welte added: "Nothing is more important for COPD patients than quitting smoking immediately". This would slow the progress of lung destruction and in some cases even stop it. Those affected feel a noticeable improvement in breathing and the cough and expectoration of phlegm decrease.
Environmental factors also crucial for COPD While the experts at MHH are primarily targeting smoking in their warnings, this is by no means the greatest risk factor for COPD among all experts. In various studies, pollution and the associated pollution of the air we breathe is classified as a higher risk of illness than smoking, although passive smoking has not been taken into account here. For example, a high proportion of dust particles in the air or inhaling the vapors of biofuels (two to six times the risk increase) is also extremely stressful for the respiratory tract and can trigger COPD. The high level of sulfur dioxide in the air we breathe is also directly related to the growing number of "smoking lungs".
Treatment difficult - healing not possible Regardless of the cause, the disease is treatable but not curable. As part of COPD treatment, patients have to take medication for life, Dr. Welte, since drug therapy is the only way to counter the episodic respiratory distress attacks. During these acute seizures called "exacerbations", the state of health of those affected usually deteriorates sustainably and the more often they overtake a patient, the more advanced the disease and the worse his health.
There are also regular stays in clinics. The drugs for COPD patients expand the bronchial tubes and make breathing much easier, although short-acting bronchodilators are sufficient in the initial stage of the disease, but later, long-term effective preparations usually have to be worked, according to the MHH experts. The additional administration of steroids such as cortisone in the form of a spray is therefore also common when the course of the disease is severe. In addition, the MHH experts emphasized that a drug for the underlying inflammation of the lungs had been on the market for the first time in a few months, which, according to clinical studies, reduces exacerbations by up to 21 percent and contributes to the recovery of the respiratory tract.
Prevention through regular exercise Since COPD as a pre-existing disease promotes the occurrence of other diseases and these, in turn, can trigger a relapsing deterioration in COPD due to acute infections, Dr. Welte those affected to get regular vaccinations against flu and pneumococci (causative agents of pneumonia). The diseases would be correspondingly milder and would not worsen COPD. The advice of Dr. Welte also: "Training is (...) crucial to curb the progression of the disease", which means physical fitness should be particularly important to the sick.
However, due to the shortness of breath during exertion, many patients avoid physical exercise and thereby further lose fitness and muscle mass, which in turn leads to a worsening of the clinical picture. A vicious cycle that is difficult to break, warns Dr. Welte and therefore recommends at least one hour of exercise a day. Any activity that stimulates the cardiovascular system is recommended here, emphasized Dr. Welte, because "couch potatos die earlier." In order to be able to exercise regularly despite an illness, the MHH experts believe that medication and targeted breathing training are available to prevent shortness of breath. (fp, 01.11.2010)
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