C.O.P.D.

While I've provided a bit of detail on my experiences with Pulmonary Embolisms, Blood Thinners, Abdominal Aneurysms I haven't mentioned living with COPD. Like the majority of folks, I thought I was just out of shape and, breathing was more difficult for that reason. As an asthmatic, I figured that, while it didn't give me much trouble, was now getting worse. My doctor ran a simple test that detected an obstruction when exhaling which was the initial tip that it was more than asthma or being out of shape.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease isn't about not being able to get enough oxygen into one's lungs, it's all about the inability to exhale the carbon dioxide which is the waste produced when our lungs process the inhaled oxygen. When we have carbon dioxide remaining in our lungs our breathing is impaired. My most recent test showed I'm using 31% of my lung capacity. With a breathing treatment, it increases about 10% and with exertion, it drops back down.

COPD is composed of chronic bronchitis which is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the air sacs of the lungs. It's characterized by daily cough and mucus production. Emphysema is a condition in which the alveoli at the end of the smallest air passages of the lungs are destroyed as a result of damaging exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritating gases and particulate matter. Initially, I had frequent bouts of bronchitis that led to my diagnosis, now it's Emphysema that is troublesome.

Those of us with COPD are likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which our symptoms become worse than the usual day-to-day variation and persist for at least several days. In case of an exacerbation, my pulmonologist has me keep a short dose of Prednisone and anti-biotics to knock it back early and prevent it from getting worse. It works for me and have only had one severe exacerbation that required medical care in the last few years. I'd like to say I don't have any bronchitis symptoms at all but an allergy-induced exasperation did lead to my first ambulance ride to the Emergency Room a year or so ago.

I find living with COPD isn't as bad as it seems to be made out to be. Yes, it presents a lot of barriers to what I used to do and quickly reminds us by causing shortness of breath. Many times when I'm doing rather easy tasks such as gardening, I get short of breath simply by bending over. Bending over squeezes our lungs, making them smaller, and decreasing our breathing volume. Shallow breathing means less oxygen to your brain and body. Less oxygen means less energy, less focus, and less function.

The big problem with COPD is that when we exert ourselves and get short of breath our brain tells our heart to speed up to supply more oxygen. When our heart speeds up we breathe faster creating the frustrating loop of breathlessness that is the hallmark of COPD.

One important point I want to make is that this isn't a death sentence and sitting around bemoaning our illnesses is counter-productive. Keeping as active as possible helps keep lung function from deteriorating any more than its already reached. Those of us not on supplemental oxygen should be conscientious about keeping moving to prevent our COPD from reaching the 4th stage of the disease when there aren't any more medical options. It is nice to see the last stage called "stage four" instead of "end-stage" as it was commonly called. Stage 4 does require supplemental oxygen but there are people who live with it for decades.

The best thing we can do is accept the reality of living with lung disease, keep active to build our core strength, and do everything we can to keep toxic substances out of our lungs.

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