Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition that affects about 12.5 million people in the United States. COPD can become progressively worse over time and affect your breathing.
Although lifestyle changes, oxygen therapy, and medications have traditionally served as the standard treatment choices, there is now another promising option for treating COPD, regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy.
Understanding COPD: Symptoms and Causes
COPD is the umbrella term for several conditions that cause airflow blockages and other breathing-related issues. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema can both lead to COPD. Chronic bronchitis is the inflammation of your bronchial tubes’ lining, while emphysema destroys the air sacs at the ends of the smallest air passages.
Key Symptoms of COPD
Common symptoms of COPD are:
- Chest tightness
- Unintended weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough that produces clear, white, yellow, or green mucus
- Swelling in feet and ankles
It’s common to experience exacerbations, which is when symptoms get significantly worse for days at a time. Many factors cause exacerbations, including exposure to air pollution, respiratory infections, and anything else that triggers inflammation.
Causes and Risk Factors
Those most likely to develop COPD are women and people who:
- Are over 65.
- Have experienced air pollution.
- Had many respiratory infections during childhood.
One of the most prevalent causes of COPD is smoking. Smoking irritates your airways, triggering inflammation that narrows those airways. Because smoke also damages the cilia, they’re not able to effectively get rid of mucus or particles from the airways.
Another cause of COPD is alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. This is an uncommon disorder that can cause emphysema. When you have AAT deficiency, you don’t have an enzyme that protects your lungs from inflammation. The deficiency makes it easier for your lungs to experience damage from irritating substances like dust and smoke.
The Current Treatments and Their Limitations
Current COPD treatments include the use of bronchodilators and steroids — as well as oxygen therapy — to minimize the symptoms of the condition.
Bronchodilators are medications that relax the muscles around the airways, helping you get better airflow. Some bronchodilators offer quick relief for acute episodes, while others are more appropriate for maintenance.
Steroids work together with bronchodilators to reduce airway inflammation. The problem with steroids is that they have significant side effects when used as a long-term treatment. Some of these side effects include weight gain, an increased risk of developing infections, and even bone loss.
Oxygen therapy is appropriate for people who have severe hypoxemia because it helps improve oxygen levels and relieve symptoms. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are other options that combine exercise training with education to help patients understand the condition better.
Surgery is the last recourse for people with severe COPD who don’t find any relief from medications or other options. For some people, a lung transplant is a viable choice. For others, the removal of damaged lung tissue can offer some relief from symptoms.
Limitations of Traditional Treatments
Although doctors have been providing these options for a long time, they have limitations. For instance, they may offer relief from symptoms, but they typically don’t address the underlying cause of the problem. Even after treatment, the damage to your airway passages and lungs remains.
The side effects of long-term use of these treatments can also be serious. Corticosteroids put a strain on your heart, cause muscle weakness, and can even impact wound healing, which can make them a challenging choice for long-term management of COPD.
More invasive procedures, like surgery, have significant risks. Additionally, there are limits to who can receive surgery for COPD because of the use of anesthesia.
Recent Advances in the Treatment of COPD
To help improve the quality of life of a patient with COPD, new treatment options are available. By working closely with your doctor, you can find the right choice for your unique needs.
Drug Therapy Innovations
The latest medications for those with COPD are new bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications that don’t cause the same side effects that may make you hesitate to try long-term drug treatments. The goal of these new medications is to offer longer-lasting support and reduce the flares you experience with COPD.
Your inhaler is an important part of a COPD treatment program, and the latest technologies allow for better drug delivery while also ensuring that the inhaling techniques are correct. All of this makes it easier to stick to using your inhaler regularly.
Stem Cell Therapy for COPD
A new potential treatment option for COPD is regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy. This type of regenerative medicine uses stem cells to help your body heal itself so that it can regenerate damaged tissue for better lung function.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be isolated from various sources, such as bone marrow, adipose tissue, or umbilical cord blood. These cells have the ability to differentiate into different cell types and possess immunomodulatory and regenerative properties.
MSCs have shown promise as a potential therapeutic approach for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While there is currently no cure for COPD, MSC-based therapies have the potential to modulate the immune response, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue repair in the lungs.
When administered into the lungs, MSCs can release anti-inflammatory molecules, promote tissue regeneration, and interact with the immune system to suppress excessive inflammation.
Getting Treatment for COPD
If you have COPD, ensuring that you have the right treatment plan on your side is vital for your long-term recovery. If you have COPD and it is progressively worsening, and there are limited treatment options available, you may want to explore stem cell therapy as a potential avenue for slowing disease progression or improving lung function.
Regenerative medicine aims to enhance what your body already does naturally, helping it heal so that you improve your quality of life. Speak to a regenerative specialist on the options you may have with this new alternative therapy option.