Respiratory / COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive, incurable lung disease, often known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. It primarily affects those over 40 and is predominantly linked to smoking. COPD entails ongoing airway limitations and inflammation, leading to breathing difficulties and oxygen exchange issues within the lungs. It can also affect breathing patterns, cause breathlessness, reduce heart function, weaken skeletal muscles, and lower overall fitness. Common symptoms include breathlessness, chronic cough, and sometimes, phlegm production.
Causes of COPD:
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, though a small portion of cases (3-11%) occurs in non-smokers. Additional risk factors include exposure to second-hand smoke, outdoor air pollution, workplace dust and chemicals, fumes from burning fuels, and genetic predisposition. Inflammation and lung damage are triggered by exposure to these factors, contributing to COPD. Rising smoking rates worldwide, early diagnosis, and an aging population have increased COPD incidence.
Diagnosis requires a GP’s evaluation, which may involve using a spirometer to assess COPD severity. Specialist respiratory physicians might be consulted for further assessment and treatment. Diagnosis considers symptoms, risk factors, breathing tests, and chest X-rays. Since COPD is incurable, treatment aims to manage the condition and prevent exacerbations. Measures include quitting smoking, optimizing medication, vaccinations (e.g., Fluvax), and attending pulmonary rehabilitation. Severe cases might involve surgery, home oxygen, or breathing machines.
Physiotherapy and COPD:
Physiotherapy is integral to COPD management, offering various treatments tailored to individual symptoms. Exercise is a key component of pulmonary rehabilitation. Remaining active and avoiding sedentary behavior is vital for maintaining fitness, health, and minimizing hospitalizations.
Pulmonary rehabilitation, comprising supervised group exercise training and education, is an effective program for people with COPD. It helps patients learn about exercise and disease management. Physiotherapists measure exercise capacity, symptoms, and safety for exercises and teach patients how to perform exercises. Education covers understanding the disease, symptom management, medication use, smoking cessation, and a healthy diet. These programs are available at hospitals and community centers across Australia.
For those with COPD, the recommended exercise is 30 minutes of aerobic activity on at least five days a week. This can include brisk walking, jogging, stationary biking, or swimming. Strength training two to three days a week is also advised to maintain muscle strength. Individuals with balance issues should incorporate balance exercises. The most effective exercise is typically at a moderate intensity, where you’re slightly out of breath but can still hold a conversation.
Safety and Benefits:
Exercise is safe and beneficial for individuals with COPD and does not exacerbate the disease. It enhances lung function and overall health. Consulting a physiotherapist or GP before starting an exercise program is advised for safety.
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