Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a number of lung-related diseases, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. If you’re affected by it, you may have one or more of these conditions, all of which cause breathing difficulties.
According to the NHS there are 900,000 currently diagnosed cases of COPD, though it’s estimated that three million people may be living with it, as many may not realise they have it. For those who have more than a mild case of COPD, the condition can affect their quality of life and may lead to life-threatening health problems.
Most importantly, if you smoke, you already have a high risk of developing COPD (at least four out of five people who have the disease are or have been smokers).
What causes COPD?
When your lungs and airways become irritated and inflamed – typically because of exposure to tobacco smoke or other harmful substances – it can cause permanent damage that leads to the development of one or more COPD conditions.
You don’t even have to be a smoker to be affected, as COPD can be caused by passive smoking too. Having a close family member such as a brother or sister with COPD also increases your risk of developing the disease yourself.
Since a persistent chesty cough is one of the main symptoms of COPD – along with breathlessness, wheezing and regular chest infections – many smokers don’t realise they have it, as they think it’s simply a ‘smoker’s’ cough. And while the development of COPD symptoms are thought to start in people from the age of 35, most diagnosed cases are in those aged 50 and older (this is thought to happen because in younger people, the symptoms may still be fairly mild).
What else causes COPD?
Besides smoking, you may develop one or more COPD conditions if you’re exposed to air pollution over a long period – although according to the NHS, researchers are still working to confirm the link between the two.
Other things that may increase your risk of having COPD include being exposed to certain types of dust or chemical fumes at work, and having chronic severe asthma. There is also a genetic disorder that can make people more vulnerable to COPD, but this is rare compared with smoking.
Is there any point in quitting?
Even if you already have COPD, it’s still worth giving up smoking. You may feel the harm has already been done, giving up can prevent any further damage – which may be the only treatment you need if you have early-stage COPD.
If you’re a smoker but you haven’t yet noticed any COPD symptoms, quitting now is the best way to reduce your risk of developing the disease in the future, not to mention other serious smoking-related health problems such as lung cancer and heart disease.
Giving up smoking can be difficult, however. But according to the Department of Health, you’re four times more likely to quit with support compared with going it alone. So if you’d like some support or advice, visit your local LloydsPharmacy –most offer the NHS Stop Smoking service, which can give you all the help you need to succeed.