Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term used to refer to a group of chronic and progressive lung diseases. The most common ones are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking is one of the leading causes of COPD. COPD takes a long time to develop, and it usually causes inflammation of the airways, making it difficult to breathe. There is no cure for COPD, but treatment helps manage and alleviate the symptoms, while also lowering the likelihood of developing complications. Treatment can also improve your overall quality of life. But, is it possible to reverse COPD? Let’s take a look.
Is it Possible to Reverse COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that restricts the airways, making it difficult to breathe. There are millions of people around the world who experience the symptoms of the disease but remain unaware that they have the illness.(1)
Some of the common symptoms of COPD include:
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Frequent respiratory infections like the common cold, the flu, or pneumonia
- Wheezing, especially while exhaling
- Lack of energy
- Need to clear out mucus from the lungs every day
- Chest tightness
In the advanced stages of the disease, symptoms may include:
It is not possible to reverse COPD, but the symptoms can be treated. This alleviates the breathing problems and also increases the overall quality of your life.
COPD and Smoking: Can COPD Be Reversed If You Quit Smoking?
Smoking is the most common cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In fact, smoking is found to be the cause of COPD in nearly 90 percent of all cases.(2)
If you have developed COPD due to smoking cigarettes, then the best thing you can do for your health is to quit smoking. This will help in slowing down the progression of the disease and also make your body more receptive to the treatment you are receiving. Quitting smoking will also lower the inflammation in your respiratory tract, helping you breathe easier. It also boosts your immune system.
According to medical experts, smoking further increases the risk of viral and bacterial respiratory infections. A study carried out in 2011 found that people with COPD were especially vulnerable to respiratory infections such as pneumonia. The study also found that when these people stopped smoking, there were marked benefits experienced in their health.(3)
No doubt that quitting smoking is a complicated process, but there are many ways in which you can achieve your goal. These include support groups, personal coaches, and even various apps.
You can take the help of a personal coach who will help you navigate situations that lead to your cravings for a cigarette. Changing your habits is also considered to be very important to successfully quit smoking.
There are many nicotine alternatives available over the counter these days that many find to be helpful in quitting smoking. These include the nicotine patch or nicotine gum. These work by reducing the level of nicotine consumption and also fight against cravings and other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
If you are unable to quit through these methods, then you can consult a doctor also to help you quit smoking. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications that will help you quit smoking.
Apart from avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke, you should also make it a point to avoid any types of environmental triggers that irritate your lungs. These include dust, air pollution, pet dander, and hair. Avoiding triggers will also reduce your breathing difficulties.
Quitting smoking will help you manage your symptoms better and also alleviate the severity of your symptoms. However, it is not going to reverse COPD.
Is It Possible To Reverse COPD With Exercise?
Exercise can definitely improve your symptoms – the way you breathe, feel, and function with COPD. However, while exercise improves the overall quality of life of people with COPD, it is not going to reverse or cure the disease.
Many people with COPD often experience shortness of breath, making it difficult for them to perform their daily chores or carry out physical activities. However, if you don’t exercise, your muscles will weaken further, and your lungs and heart will end up becoming less and less tolerant to physical activity. This will worsen your COPD symptoms, and also make it more challenging to exercise in the long term.
This is why it is essential to remain active, even though you might not feel like exercising due to the symptoms of COPD, such as persistent coughing. Start slow and build up your strength before you increase the intensity and time of your exercise routine.
There are many pulmonary rehabilitation programs in place that are very effective in improving your tolerance level to physical activity. This helps enhance your independence. Your doctor will be the right person to consult if you want to find out about pulmonary rehabilitation programs in your locality.(4)
If you are not used to exercising, then you should not start exercising without consulting your doctor. They can help you design an exercising routine that is best suited to your individual needs.
If you are on oxygen therapy, then your doctor will be able to guide you on how to use oxygen while exercising. To accommodate the increased level of physical activity, it might be necessary to adjust the oxygen flow rate.
It is important to understand that there is no way to reverse or cure COPD. However, by quitting smoking and following a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce the severity of COPD symptoms. You will also be able to successfully slow down the progression of the COPD disease and increase the quality of your life. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy and nutritious diet will not only alleviate your symptoms but also boost your immune system and build up your endurance, which will help you breathe easier.
Make sure that you are following your doctor’s recommendations and treatment plan. If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse or if you feel unwell, then it is essential to let your doctor know well in time. Do not wait to see if the symptoms improve. Any changes in your condition need to be brought to the notice of your doctor so that they can immediately evaluate your present treatment plan and make any adjustments if required.
- Who.int. 2020. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-(copd)> [Accessed 22 March 2020].
- American Lung Association. 2020. What Causes COPD. [online] Available at: <https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/symptoms-causes-risk-factors/what-causes-copd.html> [Accessed 22 March 2020].
- Godtfredsen, N.S. and Prescott, E., 2011. Benefits of smoking cessation with focus on cardiovascular and respiratory comorbidities. The clinical respiratory journal, 5(4), pp.187-194.
- Troosters, T., Casaburi, R., Gosselink, R. and Decramer, M., 2005. Pulmonary rehabilitation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 172(1), pp.19-38.
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