Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the general name for a collection of diseases which affect the lungs, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease.
Often people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with COPD have trouble breathing in and out (airflow obstruction) and their lungs become inflamed due to irritation (usually by cigarette smoke).
It is not fully understood why or how COPD develops, but smoking is by far the most common cause of the condition because cigarette smoke inflames and damages the delicate lining of the airways.
In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are over 8,000 people that are living with COPD. This extends to nearly 900,000 people across the UK, but most people are not diagnosed and around 3 million people in the UK may have the condition. The older you are the more likely you are to develop COPD. The average age at which COPD is diagnosed in the UK is 67, usually after many years of less severe symptoms.
Over many years the inflammation leads to permanent changes in the lung. These changes cause airflow obstruction, where the flow of air into and out of the body is impaired. The airflow is reduced because the walls of the airways get thicker in response to the inflammation and more mucus is produced. Damage to the delicate walls of the air sacs in the lungs means the lungs lose their normal elasticity, and it becomes much harder work to breathe, especially on exertion.
It is the changes in the lungs that lead to the symptoms of COPD:
Although any damage that has already occurred to your lungs cannot be reversed, you can prevent COPD from developing or getting worse by making changes to the way you live.
The British Lung Foundation website has information about support groups. Find your nearest Breathe Easy local support group.
Asthma is a long-term condition in which over-sensitive airways become narrow and inflamed, making it difficult to breathe in and out normally. Its cause is not completely understood, but asthma is one of a group of allergic conditions, including eczema and hay fever, which often occur together.
You are more likely to develop asthma if you:
Asthma is usually experienced as an episode. There are periods of time when you have asthma symptoms, but in between you are generally well, even for many years. The severity and duration of symptoms vary and are difficult to predict.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about how severe your asthma is and the long-term outlook.
If your asthma is mild to moderate, your asthma may improve over time, and many adults even become symptom-free.
Even in severe cases, some adults with asthma may experience improvement, depending on the degree of obstruction in the lungs and the timeliness and effectiveness of treatment.
In about 1 in 10 people with severe, persistent asthma, the structure of the walls of the airways changes, which leads to a progressive decline in lung function. Asthma is a serious condition, but one that can be well-controlled in most people.
Breathe Falmouth Club is an exercise club for people with breathing problems and the effects of COPD. The group meets every Thursday morning at Penryn Rugby Football Club, Kernick Road, 10am to 12pm. The club’s exercises follow the pulmonary rehabilitation programme from your local hospital and a private chartered physiotherapist visits the club regularly to ensure the quality of the exercise sessions. If you are interested in joining the club email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01326 315165.
Meet every Thursday 1.30pm to 3.30pm at Helston Athletic Football Club, Kellaway Park Clodgey Lane TR13 8PJ.
Liskeard and south east Cornwall
The group is a non-profit making group that was set up in 2006 by a group of patients with COPD after completing an NHS rehabilitation course. Find out more about the Liskeard and south east Cornwall group.
Held at Marlborough Court (common room), Park Lane, Bideford EX39 2QN. Call 0300 003 0555 for more information.
Saltash Breather’s Group
Held on Tuesday, 1:30pm to 3pm at SHADO Centre PL12 6DJ. Call Christine Phillips on 01752 844402 for more information.
Torpoint Breather’s Group
Contact Pat Tivnan on 01752 813613 for more information.
Breathing techniques for people who are more active include:
For most people with COPD who are disabled by their breathlessness, a structured programme of pulmonary rehabilitation provided by experienced healthcare professionals does the most good. Getting breathless is unpleasant but it is not harmful. Every patient should exercise as much as they can, however limited that may seem, twice a day. Even chair-bound people can do some arm and upper body movements.
Research shows that pulmonary rehabilitation improves exercise tolerance, breathlessness and health-related quality of life. It results in people seeing doctors less often and spending less time in hospital.
However, some people with COPD find that they lose weight because they use up so much energy breathing. Eating food that is high in protein, and taking in enough calories, is important to maintain a healthy weight.
Research has shown that people with COPD who are underweight will have fewer COPD symptoms if they manage to increase their weight.
People living with long term conditions can benefit enormously from being supported to self care – they can live longer, have less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, have a better quality of life and be more active and independent.
With the right treatment and management, asthma should not restrict your daily life.
Most people with asthma can eat a normal diet. Occasionally, people with asthma may have allergic triggers, and will need to avoid foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, yeast products, nuts and some food colourings and preservatives. But this is rare.
Some people with asthma find that exercise triggers asthma symptoms. This does not mean you should avoid it, as physical activity will improve lung function and general health. Talk to your doctor about what to do before exercising, for example, using your inhaler before or after exercise to prevent symptoms.
Asthma symptoms are often worse at night. This means you might wake up some nights coughing or with a tight chest. This will obviously disrupt your sleep. Achieving good control of asthma by using the treatment your GP recommends will reduce your symptoms, so you should sleep better.
You should be able to enjoy a full social life, unaffected by your asthma. However, it is a good idea to avoid cigarette smoke, which is now much easier since the introduction of the smoking ban.
Many people with a long-term health condition experience feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of asthma with others in a similar position. Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet others who have been diagnosed with asthma and undergone treatment.
If you are experiencing feelings of depression, talk to your GP. They will be able to provide advice and support.
The Met Office provides a service called Healthy Outlook COPD Forecast Alert. It warns people when the weather is likely to make their symptoms worse, and suggests simple measures they can take to stay well. The scheme provides weekly weather forecasts, warning people whether the risk of the weather causing an exacerbation of COPD is normal or elevated.
There is also a system for contacting all patients who have registered with the scheme when the forecast risk rises to elevated. Patients are warned by an automated telephone call about expected weather conditions, and referred to information packs for further advice. The system then asks whether their symptoms have become worse than normal, and if they have enough medication for the next two weeks. It alerts the patient’s GP surgery about the call, and their responses are stored in a database, which the GP staff can use for follow-up.
You may be able to use a web based health app to help you to manage your COPD. Ask your GP about the MyCOPD health app.