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Lung disease COPD: coughing and shortness of breath are the first warning signs
Chronic lung diseases often go undetected. Much later, when the stage of the disease is incurable, those affected first go to the doctor. If the diagnosis is made in time, therapy can effectively slow the progression. Anyone who suffers from constant cough and observes shortness of breath should definitely consult a pulmonologist.
Smokers run out of breath at some point
If you smoke 20 cigarettes every day for years, you will of course run out of steam at some point. This is noticeable, among other things, when climbing stairs or other physical activity. If there are also breathing difficulties, poor fitness or age is often no longer an adequate explanation.
It is best to see a doctor, especially if those affected often cough and often suffer from respiratory infections. This could be caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; also known as smoking cough).
Up to five million Germans have smoking cough
According to the German Respiratory League, up to five million people suffer from COPD in Germany alone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 64 million people worldwide are affected. COPD is estimated to be the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030. So the disease should not be underestimated.
As the respiratory league explains on its website, the abbreviation COPD stands for the English name of the lung disease: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This means that the lungs are chronically ill because the airways are inflamed and permanently narrowed (= obstructive) and the lungs age faster.
The chairman of the board of trustees of the German Lung Foundation, Prof. Gerhard W. Sybrecht, said: "A cure is not possible, but rapid progression of the disease can often be prevented."
Non-smokers can also get sick
Smokers in particular fall ill, but non-smokers are also often affected. Canadian scientists published a study in Thorax magazine a few years ago that shows which risk factors play a role in COPD in addition to tobacco consumption. It is known that, for example, people who are regularly exposed to air pollutants in the workplace belong to the risk groups. In rare cases, COPD can also be genetic. The lung disease usually begins slowly.
The most important signs are, according to health experts, expectoration, coughing and shortness of breath (“AHA” symptoms), the latter often only occurring at the beginning with physical exertion, but also in the rest as it progresses. Usually, the smoker's cough is most pronounced in the morning, which also makes the so-called sputum relatively easy to cough up, which is usually light brown in COPD.
In the course of the disease, chest tightness or the feeling of a bloated lung often develop, which means that those affected feel constantly breathless. Squeaking or rattling noises when exhaling and a reduced overall performance are also typical.
Complaints should be clarified as early as possible
"One problem is that patients often only go to the doctor when complaints have gotten out of hand," explained Ulm internist for pulmonary and bronchial medicine Michael Barczok in the dpa report. "Then a lot of lung tissue is often irretrievably destroyed," says the doctor, who is also the press spokesman for the Federal Association of Pneumologists, Sleep and Ventilation Physicians. Complaints such as constant cough and shortness of breath should therefore be clarified medically as early as possible.
"Many have COPD and don't know it," said Sybrecht. During the regular health check-up, patients should make sure that a lung function check is carried out. If there are any abnormalities, a referral to a pulmonologist (pneumologist) should take place.
Examinations by a specialist
With this, a reliable diagnosis can be made by examinations such as so-called spirometry, in which the tidal volume is measured. Another method, called body plethysmography, determines breathing resistance and lung capacity. Sometimes other examinations are carried out. "This can be a stress test, for example," says Sybrecht.
This enables the doctor to find out whether, for example, increased lung pressure leads to stress on the right heart. If smokers are diagnosed with COPD, they should definitely stop inhaling. "This reduces the risk of acute deterioration in lung and airway functions," said Barczok. In addition, those affected are given inhaled medications that alleviate breathing difficulties. "There are a large number of inhalation systems on the market that differ from one another in their operation," said the deputy chairman of the board of the German Respiratory League, Prof. Heinrich Worth.
Those affected should not give up sport
Patients can learn how to use the inhalation system, which is adapted to individual circumstances, at a patient training course. Worth emphasized: "Participation is very important to avoid possible user errors." Among other things, those affected are taught the basics of respiratory therapy. Self-help measures are also an issue. In addition, it is better not to do without sports with COPD.
"Many often avoid physical activity for fear of shortness of breath," said Barczok. However, muscle mass and muscle strength decrease due to a lack of exercise, which reduces physical resilience. This ultimately leads to deterioration in lung function. Wort therefore recommended: "In order to break this vicious circle, those affected should do targeted sports and exercise therapy in lung sports groups". (ad)