If you smoke, you have an increased risk of getting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The condition can build up over a number of years, as your lungs are gradually damaged more and more by smoking.
COPD does not usually become noticeable until after the age of 40. Symptoms include:
- early morning 'smoker's cough',
- persistent coughing,
- mucus and phlegm,
- tight chest,
- difficulty breathing,
- shortness of breath, and
- repeated lung and chest infections.
If you have COPD, your bronchioles (airways of the lungs) become inflamed and narrowed. As your lungs' alveoli (air sacs in the lungs) become permanently damaged, it will become increasingly difficult for you to breathe in and out.
The symptoms of COPD are often worse in the winter, and it is common to have two, or more, 'flare-ups' a year. A flare-up is when your symptoms are particularly bad.
If you have COPD, you may feel anxious about your condition. This can leave you feeling depressed and isolated.
If you find it hard to get air in and out of your lungs, the amount of oxygen reaching your heart and other muscles is restricted. This can make you feel very tired. This can affect your work, ability to exercise, social life, and personal relationships. It can also have a negative impact on your sex life, as you may feel too tired to have sex or experience breathing difficulties during sex.
If you have severe COPD, simple tasks and daily activities can become increasingly difficult.
COPD and your weight
If you are having difficulties breathing, you may be using up a lot more energy than usual. You may find that feeling breathless is making it hard to eat as much as you would normally. This can lead to weight loss and muscle wasting.
Severe weight loss can result in serious complications, such as heart failure (a weakened, inefficient heart).
If you are losing a significant amount of weight, speak to your GP for advice about ways to help keep your weight up.
Not everyone with COPD loses weight. If you are overweight, try not to put weight on. Obesity can also make COPD worse and lead to health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Whether you are under or overweight, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is essential.
When to seek medical advice
You should contact your GP if you experience the following symptoms:
- an increasing breathlessness when exercising, or moving around.,
- a persistent cough with phlegm that never seems to go away, and
- frequent chest infections, particularly in winter.
While there is currently no cure for COPD, the sooner the condition is diagnosed and appropriate treatment can begin, the less chance there is that you will experience severe lung damage.