Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects 16 million adults in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. COPD refers to two main conditions — chronic bronchitis and emphysema. If you’ve received a COPD diagnosis, it can be tough to know what to expect from the disease as it progresses. For many people, one of the leading questions is whether COPD can be reversed. Learn more about this disease and what kind of treatments offer promising results.
Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
COPD occurs because of damage to the airways or other parts of the lungs, blocking airflow and making it more difficult to breathe. Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema can lead to the development of COPD.
Chronic bronchitis affects your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. Bronchitis irritates these tubes, leading to the production of mucus that narrows the tube’s opening, making it much harder to breathe.
Usually, hair-like structures called cilia move mucus out of your airways, but the irritation from bronchitis damages the cilia.
Emphysema is a condition that affects the air sacs at the end of the bronchial tubes. These air sacs assist in the transfer of oxygen into your blood and carbon dioxide out. Emphysema destroys the walls of these sacs, making it tough to get a breath.
COPD can cause symptoms that include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest heaviness or tightness
- Ongoing cough
- Whistling or wheezing when you breathe
- Cough with mucus
Not everyone who has COPD experiences all of these symptoms.
Causes of COPD
One of the biggest risk factors of COPD is smoking. The majority of people who have COPD smoke or has a history of smoking. If you have a family history of COPD, you are more likely to develop it if you smoke. Smoke irritates the airways, causing inflammation while also damaging the cilia that moves mucus.
If you’ve suffered long-term exposure to other lung irritants, you could also be at risk. Irritants can be chemical fumes, dust, air pollution, smoke from home cooking, and heating fuel. Secondhand smoke can also be a factor.
Your age is also a consideration if you have other risk factors. Most people who have COPD are at least 40.
Infections like tuberculosis and HIV also put you at risk. If you have asthma, you also could experience COPD.
One of the potential genetic causes of COPD is a condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. If you have this condition, long-term exposure to fumes or smoking can result in lung damage, leading to COPD. AAT deficiency makes it easier to develop the disease earlier in life.
Treatment of COPD: Managing Symptoms
Treating COPD means finding ways of decreasing symptoms. The first thing you have to do is to quit smoking if you’re still engaged in this habit. Continuing to smoke as you deal with COPD will only make the condition worse.
Bronchodilators and steroids are options that can help with symptoms. If you have mild COPD, your doctor may prescribe short-acting bronchodilators that you use only when you experience symptoms. These bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways.
If you have a more severe case of COPD, you may need to take bronchodilators every day. In some instances, your doctor may prescribe them along with steroids.
Can COPD Be Reversed? For some people, pulmonary rehabilitation is helpful. This option includes exercise training and breathing techniques to help you better manage the symptoms.
Oxygen therapy is another option. You receive supplemental oxygen from tubes that rest in your nose, a face mask, or a tube that goes into your windpipe.
Surgery is generally only done in people with severe COPD that doesn’t respond to other treatment options. There are a few different types of surgeries. Getting a lung transplant is another option, though it is even rarer than surgery.
Slowing the Progression of COPD: Promising Options
Although it’s not yet possible to reverse the conditions, it can be possible to slow down the progression of COPD. The first step is to get an early diagnosis and intervention. If you suspect you have COPD, it’s important to ask your doctor for a spirometry test.
If you have a family history of the condition or have smoked for a long time, it can help to get a test even if you don’t have symptoms.
It can also be helpful to learn both diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates relaxation and increases oxygen saturation while also reducing the amount of air trapped in your lungs. Pursed-lip breathing, on the other hand, offers quick relief for someone experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing.
You will also need to avoid environmental triggers. These triggers can include air pollutants, extreme temperature changes, smoke, and strenuous activities.
Additionally, stem cell therapy offers the chance to slow down the progression of COPD. It uses stem cells to stimulate your body to start healing itself. It could speed up your lungs’ ability to heal themselves.
Stem cell therapy can also be helpful in preventing inflammation by assisting you in producing anti-inflammatory molecules.
One of the best things about stem cell therapy and other regenerative medicine options is that it’s minimally invasive and doesn’t require a long recovery process. You also don’t have to worry about side effects or rejections.
Living With COPD: Choosing the Best Treatment Strategies
Once your lungs suffer the kind of damage COPD causes, reversing the condition is usually not an option. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t improve your symptoms and even dramatically slow down the disease’s progression.
Stem cell therapy is an option that offers the chance to help your body heal itself, even if not entirely. A combination of treatments can be the most effective way of dealing with COPD, so make sure to speak with a specialist on your treatment options.