The #1 Way to Prevent COPD

Breath is life. From the first breath to the very last, breath is what connects us all. Breathing is so innate and automatic that we often take it for granted — until we can’t do it anymore. Those with COPD know all too well the impact that breathing disorders have on the quality of life. In addition to the physical challenges of the condition, COPD patients also face immense psychological challenges. COPD is an incurable, life-long disease. However, there are almost always ways to prevent COPD in the first place. Read on to discover the number one way to protect your lungs and the lungs of your loved ones.

COPD made simple

Sixteen million people in the United States could tell you their personal experiences with COPD. What’s worse, millions more have it and don’t even know. As the third leading cause of death worldwide, COPD is a growing global epidemic. This chronic, debilitating disease puts enormous strain on the healthcare system, costing America close to 50 billion dollars each year. Tragically, COPD is close to 100 percent preventable. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a chronic lung disease where the lungs’ small airways are damaged, making it difficult to get air in and out. In healthy lungs, the pathways leading in and the air sacs that make up the lungs are elastic and stretchy. Normally, the air sacs inflate like balloons and deflate during exhalation. For those with COPD, air is restricted due to one of the following:

  • The walls of the airways are thick, irritated, and swollen.
  • The walls that connect the air sacs are damaged.
  • The airways and air sacs lose elasticity and become hardened.
  • The airways produce excess mucus and clog the passages. 

The two primary causes of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis affects the lungs’ breathing tubes, irritating them and causing them to swell. The inflammation causes a build-up of sticky mucus. Unfortunately, the tiny hairs (cilia) that typically move the mucus out become damaged, making it hard to expel the unwanted phlegm. As a result, viral and bacterial infections often develop. 

On the other hand, emphysema destroys the alveoli, the lungs’ air sacs. The delicate transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs in the air sacs. As a result, the lungs lose their elasticity and become hardened. As the walls of the air sacs weaken and break, the body holds too much carbon dioxide and does not get enough oxygen. 

There are four stages of COPD, with stage one being the mildest and stage four exhibiting the most severe symptoms. Stage four COPD is also called end-stage COPD and is considered terminal. 

Symptoms of COPD

Early signs of COPD may include a mild cough that won’t go away, tiredness, and mild shortness of breath. Those in the beginning stages of the disease often think that they have a persistent viral infection. As COPD advances, additional symptoms may include: 

  • Wheezing
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Exhaustion
  • Chronic cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Excess mucus in the lungs
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Anxiety

Symptoms worsen in later stages of the disease and often include weight loss, swelling in the arms and legs, fast heartbeat, blue fingernails or lips, barrel-shaped chest, and delirium.

COPD as the cause of heart disease 

The heart and lungs are intricately connected, depending on one another for good health. When the body cannot get enough oxygen through the lungs, the heart responds. COPD contributes to multiple heart problems. 

Low oxygen levels lead to increased pressure in the vessels from your heart to your lungs. This pulmonary hypertension causes the heart to work much harder than it should, often leading to right-sided heart failure. In addition, as the right side of the heart enlarges, fluids build in the body, and breathing becomes even more labored. 

COPD can also lead to other heart problems, such as arrhythmias and heart attacks. COPD is associated with a 28 percent increased risk of developing AFib, a cardiac condition that causes the heart to beat abnormally. Increased inflammation, oxidation, decreased oxygen, and medications for COPD can all increase the risk of AFib. COPD also doubles the risk for fatal heart attacks. 

The #1 leading cause of COPD 

Long-term exposure to irritants that damage the lungs can lead to COPD. The number one cause of COPD is smoking. In fact, cigarette smoking is responsible for 85 to 90 percent of all COPD cases. Prevent COPD by quitting smoking today.

From arsenic to acetone, every puff of smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals. In addition, cigarettes contain carbon monoxide, displacing oxygen in the blood. When inhaled, the harmful toxins in tobacco cause permanent changes to the cells within the lungs. As a result, the lungs become inflamed. 

It’s not only cigarettes that cause concern. Cigars and pipe smoke also contribute to COPD. And, if you think that vaping e-cigarettes will protect you, think again! While the evidence is still emerging, recent studies suggest that they, too, may carry significant health risks when it comes to COPD. 

Even if you’ve never taken a puff of a cigarette, you may still be at significant risk for COPD. Being around other smoking individuals, also called secondhand smoke, can increase your odds of developing this devastating lung disease. 

Studies show that passive smoking is associated with an increased risk of COPD. Research also suggests that exposure to cigarette smoke could increase the risk of death. Children who lived with a smoking relative had a 31 percent higher mortality than those in smoke-free homes. There’s no doubt that secondhand smoke increases the risk of COPD. 

Other causes of COPD

While smoking cigarettes is the number one cause of respiratory disease, it’s not the only lung irritant contributing to COPD. Long-term exposure to indoor or outdoor pollutants can also cause damage to the lungs. 

Household air pollution is the most frequent cause of COPD in non-smokers, especially in third-world countries where smoky fuels are used for cooking or heating the home. However, even here in the United States, household air pollution contributes to COPD. Studies have found that repeated exposure to certain household chemicals can damage lung function and contribute to a COPD diagnosis. You can prevent COPD by using natural, chemical-free cleaning products.

Recent studies have pointed to increasing rates of lung disease even in non-smokers, suggesting that workplace and environmental exposure to toxins may also increase the risk of COPD. 

How to prevent COPD

Clearly, the best way to prevent COPD is to steer clear of smoking and keep a far distance from any secondhand exposure. However, there are also other steps that you can take to keep your lungs strong: 

Next steps

There are many unavoidable things in this world, but COPD is not one. Thankfully, COPD is one of the most preventable diseases. Even if you’ve been a smoker in the past, it’s never too late to turn things around. Stop smoking today! By committing to health, you can ensure a long and vibrant future for yourself and those you love.

Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well 


Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD

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