56-year-old Suresh Seshadri (name changed) was a chain smoker until a couple of years ago. A member of the aviation industry, he began smoking once he started working and smoked nearly a pack of cigarettes a day until his late 40s. When he was nearing the big 5-0, he began to feel breathless even when doing regular day-to-day tasks. He brushed it aside, assuming it was due to the high levels of pollution that the national capital regularly reeled under. It was only when walking even a few meters started becoming a task did Seshadri decide to visit a doctor. The diagnosis was grim. Sheshadri suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), an incurable and progressive disease.
It came as a surprise to him, as it comes to many people, even though in 2017, COPD was the second-highest cause of deaths in India, after heart ailments. For such a deadly killer, it seems to attract little attention outside medical and patient circles.
However, it is critical that more awareness spread about this disease
We spoke to Dr Avi Kumar, Senior Consultant – Pulmonologist with Fortis Healthcare, who explains the symptoms, possible ways of preventing COPD, and things that we ought to know.
What are the symptoms that COPD patients usually present?
Dr Kumar says, “COPD patients whom I usually see on a regular basis come to us with a history of prolonged cough, breathlessness, even cough accompanied with sputum, and wheezing.”
Here’s what you should keep an eye out for:
• Shortness of breath – especially while doing regular activities
• Tightness in the chest
• General lack of energy and fatigue
• Swelling up on the ankles, knees and even legs
• A chronic cough that is sometimes accompanied by sputum
• Frequent respiratory infections
• Cardio-vascular complications
• An increased propensity to have heart ailments
Dr Kumar says, “As one ages, these symptoms start becoming more pronounced. In the beginning, it’s just a cough. If left untreated, it becomes extremely difficult to handle in the later stages. With an increase in age, there is a decline in pulmonary functions as well.”
He goes on to say that patients who suffer from COPD also have an increased chance of suffering from depression. He says, “these patients usually suffer for a very long time and they have to continue their medication for their lifetime. These things play a psychological role in their well-being and this leads to anxiety, insomnia and in some cases even depression.”
So what causes COPD?
“One of the most well-known causes is smoking. Nowadays, exposure to such severe pollution levels is also a major factor. Age and genetics are also factors that have an impact.” the doctor says.
Ways to stay protected
One often hears that prevention is better than cure and in the case of COPD it is of prime importance to ensure that all steps are taken to prevent it. Once contracted, the disease is incurable.
• If you are a smoker then the first thing that you ought to do is quit. This is the single most important thing that you can do to keep COPD at bay.
• If you know friends or family members who smoke then urge them to stop and also ensure that they do not smoke around you – second-hand smoke also causes severe damage to the body.
• Eat protein-rich food and ensure that your meals are nutritionally balanced. If you are a vegetarian do find sources of food that are rich in protein
• Exercise well to ensure that you have healthy muscle mass. Those who suffer from COPD lose muscle mass rapidly.
• Also, ensure that you incorporate exercises to work your lungs and respiratory organs. It is important to have healthy lungs.
• If you have access to air purifiers, use them efficiently. Ensure that you always wear a mask when stepping out during times when pollution is at a peak.
Dr Kumar says, “While not all smokers end up with COPD, the average number we have seen is 20 to 25 per cent. However, one of the major causes is smoking and we advise against it. One usually sees COPD impacting those above the age of 50. The intensity increases with age.”
In conclusion, Dr Kumar says, “Those patients who have been diagnosed with COPD must ensure that they visit their doctor for periodic check-ups, get all their immunisations on time, and focus on eating right and exercising well.”
Also Read: Worried About Air Pollution? These 5 Tips Will Ensure That You #BreatheEasy At Home!
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)