“Chronic bronchitis is always the first warning sign”

With COPD, the airways are narrowed and constantly inflamed.  Typical symptoms of the disease are chronic cough with mucus and shortness of breath.

A persistent cough with mucus production should always be clarified by a doctor promptly. It can indicate the onset of COPD, especially in smokers. (Source: stefanamer/Getty Images)

Chronic cough with sputum and shortness of breath: The lung disease COPD develops gradually and often goes unnoticed for a long time. In the final stage there is a risk of respiratory failure.

COPD – the abbreviation stands for “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”, which means something like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease . It causes the airways to become inflamed and permanently narrowed. People who smoke are particularly at risk. A cure is not yet possible. However, if COPD is detected early, its progression can be slowed down.

But how do you know that you have COPD? How much can the lungs recover? And what treatment options are there? t-online spoke to Professor Dr. Christian Taube, Director of the Pulmonology Clinic at the University Medical Center Essen – Ruhrland Clinic, spoke.

t-online: COPD is a widespread disease. Around one in four adults will develop it during their lifetime. How come?

Professor Taube : The main cause is smoking. The long-term stimulus of the cigarette leads to changes in the lungs of people who are sensitive to it. This leads to narrowing of the airways and destruction of the lung tissue. But there are also forms of COPD that are genetically determined. However, they are rather the exception.

The number of sufferers has increased sharply in recent years. What are the reasons?

Cigarette smoking has increased again since the corona pandemic. Currently, around 33 percent of the adult population in Germany smokes . In the years before the pandemic there were fewer. In developing and emerging countries, factors such as environmental pollution also play a role. Experts speak of a so-called “biomass COPD”. For example, it affects people who come into contact with open fire. This irritates the respiratory tract and causes long-term damage to the lungs.

What symptoms are typical of COPD?

The first symptom is coughing, usually associated with increased mucus production. As the disease progresses, the lung tissue is permanently destroyed. The result is shortness of breath . Initially it only occurs under stress. The more COPD progresses, the more severe it becomes. In the end, the symptoms also occur when you are at rest. This significantly limits the quality of life of patients.

So if you have a chronic cough, shouldn’t you wait too long to see a doctor?

Absolutely. Chronic bronchitis with sputum is always a warning sign that should be taken seriously. In active smokers, COPD can develop with massive damage to the lung tissue.

Do people with smoker’s cough have a chance of getting well again?

This is possible as long as there is no visible impairment of lung function. In any case, those affected should stop smoking immediately. And completely. A few fewer cigarettes a day won’t help. But even if you already have COPD, stopping smoking is the only way to counteract the progression of the disease. This is the only way to prevent the patient from losing even more lung function.

How does quitting smoking affect quality of life?

When a patient stops smoking, their chronic bronchitis usually improves and mucus production reduces. Unfortunately, what you have lost in terms of lung function can no longer be regained. The lung tissue that has already been destroyed cannot regenerate. COPD is not cured, only its progression is prevented.

How does COPD affect lifespan?

COPD shortens lifespan. To what extent depends on many factors. It should also be taken into account that the susceptibility to other diseases increases. Even patients who “only” suffer from mild COPD already have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

If COPD is very advanced, the administration of oxygen is sometimes necessary.
If COPD is very advanced, the administration of oxygen is sometimes necessary. (Source: AndreyPopov/Getty Images)

People with advanced COPD who receive oxygen so that their body is adequately supplied have a significantly reduced life expectancy. In the final stages of the disease, the respiratory muscles may no longer function properly. Then artificial ventilation is necessary. Those affected must wear a mask at night so that the diaphragm can recover and the increased CO2 levels are reduced. The life expectancy of patients at this stage is very low.


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