Understanding COPD and the long-term solutions
Understanding COPD and the long-term solutions
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is not just one disease. It’s a term used to refer to a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties – chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Chronic bronchitis is caused by inflammation and increased phlegm or mucus in your breathing tubes (airways). This inflammation swells your lungs, and combined with the extra mucus present, causes an obstruction to your airflow capacity
Emphysema involves damage to the air sacs in your lung. When the walls of the air sacs are damaged, they lose their elasticity and trap air, causing excess air to remain in the lungs after you breathe out. This requires extra effort to breathe out, and results in shortness of breath.
Who does it affect?
Most people with COPD are smokers or have smoked in the past. Sometimes the disease is picked up by people working or living for many years in a dangerous environment where there is frequent exposure to smoke, dust or fumes.
COPD affects just about 10% of the global population and causes over 3 million deaths annually. However, many people with COPD don’t know they have the disease.
It’s one of the most common respiratory diseases in Ireland, typically affecting people over the age of 35. About 110,000 people in Ireland have been diagnosed with COPD, but its suspected that there could be up to 200,000 people who live with COPD without knowing they have it.
COPD has affected more men than women statistically, but according to the Irish Thoracic Society, rates of COPD in women are steadily on the rise.
One of the most worrying things about COPD is that many people don’t know they actually have COPD. This has happened because the main cause of COPD is smoking. Those who develop the disease often dismiss their symptoms as a ‘smoker’s cough’ and don’t seek medical help.
The likelihood of someone developing COPD increases the more frequent you smoke and the longer you’ve been smoking.
What is it like?
The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, difficulty performing exercise, a persistent cough with phlegm production, wheezing, and frequent chest infections
People with COPD have trouble breathing in and out, known as airflow obstruction. Their lungs become inflamed due to irritation that is usually caused by cigarette smoke. This inflammation leads to permanent changes in the lung over many years. The walls of the lungs of the airways get thicker to fight the inflammation, and much more mucus is produced as a result.
Smoking also damages the walls of the air sacs in the lungs, which makes them lose their normal elasticity. It causes breathing in and out much more difficult, particularly under stress and strain such as exercise.
Dealing with COPD
The unfortunate thing about this disease is that any damage done cannot be reversed. Lung damage and inflammation simply cannot be reversed. However, people can take steps to prevent COPD from developing or getting worse by making lifestyle changes.
Although COPD causes about 1,500 deaths a year in Ireland, severe COPD can be prevented by making changes to your lifestyle, especially giving up smoking if you haven’t already.
The primary form of treatment for COPD usually involves relieving the symptoms, for example by using an inhaler or through medicines designed to make breathing easier.
Many patients benefit from a process known as pulmonary rehabilitation, a specialized program of exercise and education.
That’s where we aim to try and help those living with COPD. Using our existing health and wellness management platform, we have created an innovative Health Management Tool that can empower patients with COPD.
It delivers an easy to use digital service that assists patients to carefully manage their disease, with the same guidance as in-person Pulmonary-Rehabilitation (PR) and post-PR rehab that a patient would normally receive. Our solution includes exercise training, breathing management, as well as education for patients to help them self-detect exacerbations so that early interventions can be made.
In difficult times such as COVID-19, where there is increased pressure and stress on our hospital system, our digital solution poses as a long-term tool that could be used to promote self-management of COPD patients, in line with already existing medical-standard models of care
Empeal will empower and improve patient’s quality of life, help them stay at home longer, thereby reducing pressure on hospital beds and emergency departments. As an existing health management platform, we have systems in place to allow for personalised nutrition, exercise and lifestyle balancing programmes.