Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus: Don't Be Led by the Pack; Today: CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE

The Mirror (London, England), February 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus: Don't Be Led by the Pack; Today: CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE


Byline: Dr Miriam Stoppard

CHRONIC Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an incurable and crippling illness which kills about three million people every year, making it the world's fifth most common cause of death.

One per cent of the UK population - about 600,000 people - have COPD. This rises to 2 per cent in men aged 45 to 65, and 7 per cent of men over 75.

LEADING model Christy Turlington announced in December that she was suffering from emphysema.

Christy, 32, gave up a 20-a-day smoking habit five years ago.

In her early modelling days she wanted to appear more grown up so by the age of 16 she was on a pack of cigarettes a day.

This has caused her permanent damage, and, like all sufferers from emphysema, she faces the risk of developing COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Britain has one of the highest COPD death rates in Europe. In 1994, COPD accounted for 5.4 per cent of all male deaths and 3.2 per cent of all female deaths.

More recent figures show that about 27,000 people die of COPD and allied conditions each year.

Most people with COPD attribute their symptoms to smoker's cough and don't seek medical help until it's too late for appropriate treatment.

We think that the only fatal smokers' disease is lung cancer, but it's not: COPD kills many more people than cancer of the lung.

What is COPD?

IT'S a common disorder in which lung damage over a long periodcauses breathlessness because air can't flow in and out of the lungs.

COPD is an overall term for a number of conditions including chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) or chronic emphysema.

The word "chronic" has nothing to do with severity, it simply means the problem is long-term.

What does it include?

CHRONIC BRONCHITIS: Bronchitis means inflammation of the bronchi. This leads to an increase in mucus in the airways, producing phlegm which reduces airflow and makes you cough.

CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE AIRWAYS DISEASE (COAD): The airways become narrower, making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. Narrowing of the airways causes shortness of breath and wheezing.

EMPHYSEMA: In emphysema the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in the lungs are gradually destroyed so people have difficulty absorbing enough oxygen. The airways are also affected in this condition so there's shortness of breath.

What causes it?

THE most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. Even if you used to smoke, you're at greater risk of developing COPD.

However, once you give up smoking you gradually reduce the chances of getting the disease. Pollution probably isn't a factor.

How does it affect you?

IN mild cases, symptoms such as a cough, phlegm and shortness of breath may only be present during winter after a cold, while in more severe cases shortness of breath may be ever-present.

With more severe disease, normal daily activities become difficult and disturbed nights make people even more tired.

Overall quality of life for people with advanced COPD is about four times worse than for people with severe asthma. The psychological problems of restricted mobility, social isolation and poor self-esteem are considerable. …

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