Who Is at Risk for COPD?

Jun 01, 2023
Who Is at Risk for COPD?
Do you struggle to breathe? Do you produce a lot of mucus? Do you cough frequently — or constantly? It could be due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Keep reading to know if you’re at risk for this condition and when to see an expert.

Most people expect certain changes with age, such as becoming winded more easily than they used to. Unfortunately, this attitude can also cause them to ignore symptoms of a serious condition and not seek care when it’s in its earliest stages.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) usually doesn’t get as much attention as cancer or heart disease. But, it’s also a leading cause of death for Americans. COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that grows progressively worse with time, so starting treatment as soon as possible plays a crucial role in proper management.

At Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine in Algonquin, Illinois, our skilled team diagnoses and treats disorders that impact your lungs and ability to breathe, such as COPD. If you’ve noticed problems with your breathing, here’s what you should know about this disease and who’s at risk.

How your lungs work

Your lungs contain several components that contribute to healthy respiration. After air passes down your windpipe, it reaches your lungs through two large bronchial tubes. 

Inside each lung, the bronchi tube divides numerous times — similar to branches of a tree ending in clusters of berries. However, the “branches” of this tree are actually smaller tube airways, and the “berries” are air sacs known as alveoli with tiny blood vessels.

Each time you inhale, oxygen passes through this complex network of airways until it reaches the alveoli, where it passes into your bloodstream via the blood vessels. The components also help rid your body of carbon dioxide every time you exhale.

The entire process is possible because of the elastic nature of the bronchial tubes and air sacs.

COPD basics

When you have COPD, your lungs lose their elasticity, which causes less air to flow in and out of your airways. This can occur for various reasons, including:

  • Lost elasticity in the airways and alveoli
  • Thick or inflamed airway walls
  • Destroyed walls between alveoli
  • Higher than normal mucus production in the airways, causing clogs

And, sometimes, more than one of these changes occur at the same time.

Unfortunately, these lung changes happen slowly and worsen over time. That’s why it’s essential to learn who’s at risk, so you can spot a problem as early as possible.

Causes of COPD

In most cases of COPD, the main cause involves tobacco smoking. However, that’s not the only factor that can increase your chances for a problem. In fact, 1 in 4 people with the disease have never smoked.

Other risk factors for COPD include:

  • A history of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or asthma
  • Exposure to environmental irritants, such as air pollution, dust, fumes, chemicals, or smoke of any kind
  • Frequent childhood respiratory conditions
  • Other conditions, such as HIV and tuberculosis
  • Genetics, such as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency

Without treatment, COPD continues to worsen and increases your chances for serious complications, from respiratory infections and heart disease to lung cancer and depression.

Spotting the signs of COPD

COPD can cause numerous symptoms, but they often don’t appear until significant lung damage occurs. As a result, you should see an expert as soon as any signs of this disease arise, including:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during activity
  • Being unable to take a deep breath
  • Feeling as though you can’t breathe
  • Wheezing
  • A chronic cough, especially with mucus
  • Chest tightness
  • Lack of energy
  • Swelling in the lower extremities

As the disease worsens, it’s also possible to experience unintended weight loss.

If you notice signs of COPD, schedule an appointment with our experts. We can perform lung function tests to identify your breathing issue and create a personalized treatment strategy to ease your symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

To see if you have COPD or to get care if you do, call 815-584-0976 or book an appointment online with Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine today.