Today is World COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Day. COPD is the name we use to describe a number of different breathing problems, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is usually, though not always, caused by smoking. People in developed countries like the UK are becoming more aware of how dangerous smoking is for your health and so fewer people are smoking these days. In developing countries such as China and India, smoking rates are increasing and so we expect that the number of people across the world who have COPD will increase hugely in the next twenty years or so. Although there are lots of people working to develop new treatments for COPD, the best thing we can do is try and help people stop smoking – or, even better, not to start in the first place.
Living with COPD can be very difficult. People with severe COPD often become very breathless, even when doing things that healthy people find easy such as getting dressed or walking from one room to another at home. Even people with milder COPD whose lungs are still working quite well may find themselves getting more breathless than usual, and so may choose not to be as active. This can result in them becoming weak and less fit, which can in turn make their breathlessness worse. Research – some of it done in our lab – has shown that exercise classes (called ‘pulmonary rehabilitation’, or PR) can help to make people with COPD stronger and fitter, which can mean that they fight off infections more easily and are less likely to be admitted to hospital. There is a lot of other research happening across the world to develop new treatments for COPD, but we know that the best things people can do to help their breathing if they have COPD are also the simplest: stop smoking, do PR, and have the ‘flu jab.
These videos from the British Lung Foundation show how two people’s lives have been affected by COPD.