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COPD: When to Suspect?
(Clinical Features & Early Diagnosis)


Dr. J.K. Samaria
National Secretary, Indian Chest Society
Professor & Head
Department of Chest Diseases
Institute of Medical Sciences
Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi – 221005 (U.P.) 

COPD is a serious illness worldwide. It is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality if left untreated in the early stages. It is also associated with significant loss of productivity of the individual in the society. So in this context, it is imperative to diagnose and treat this disease at the earliest. It is also important to note that the accurate diagnosis of this disease can be done by the physician only.

Therefore it will be helpful for the patients to know common symptoms and risk factors of this disease, in order to report early and thereby reduce the progression, complications and overall burden of the disease.

Common symptoms include shortness of breath causing restriction on regular activities like walking and doing light household work or even getting dressed in the patients of COPD. There may be constant coughing with excessive sputum production and chest tightness. There may be wheezing and difficulty in taking deep breath. If patients are known case of asthma and his symptoms are progressively worsening despite medications, then one should suspect the development of COPD.

Most important risk factor for the development of this disease is smoking bidi, cigarette and ganja etc. Continuous inhalation of passive smoke is also a significant contributor. Indoor air pollution in terms of inhalation of smoke from biomass fuels while cooking food and outdoor air pollution are also important risk factors. Occupational exposure of organic and inorganic dusts, chemicals and fumes are definite hazards for COPD.

If a patients witness above mentioned symptoms, he must pay a visit to the physician. The physician will suspect COPD based on symptoms and history of exposure to certain risk factors. The diagnosis of COPD is then confirmed by a simple breathing test called Spirometry. In this test patients will be asked to breathe in, to hold air in the lungs and to breathe it out. This test determines health of the lungs by assessing how easily patients can perform.

The most important part of treatment is complete cessation of smoking and avoidance of other risk factors. No amount of medicine will work if you continue smoking. Also know that benefits of quitting smoking is quickly lost if you resume smoking. If ignored, COPD may lead to lung failure, heart failure and several other complications.

Dr. J.K. Samaria
e-mail: jks@sify.com
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