What is COPD, how do I get it?

I’ve covered this question from my search engine list before, from a slightly different angle “I don’t smoke, can I still have COPD?”

Simple answer – yes.

More complicated answer, no, not unless you have some pre-existing respiratory condition(s) (in my case bronchiectasis and asthma), that can, through its/their natural progression, cause you to develop emphysema.

Emphysema is the defining condition for a diagnosis of COPD – no emphysema, no COPD.

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), isn’t really a disease in the sense that, say, typhoid, is a disease – that’s something of a misnomer, as it is with its forerunner, OAD (Obstructive Airways Disease). It’s a portmanteau condition, comprising the original illness(es) that led you to develop emphysema, and emphysema itself, plus whatever other complications may come your way (again, in my case, Cor Pulmonale).

The difference between OAD and COPD, by the way, is that, in the former, the obstruction** (in asthma, for example, the normal factor in OAD), is very reversible with the right treatment. In COPD, the prospect of reversal is much less (which explains my extensive medication, the components of which approach the problem of obstruction reversal from different directions), and continues to diminish for the life of the sufferer.

By the way, I’ve seen “medical” websites that off cures, partial or total, for COPD. Forget it, there is no cure. COPD can be improved, though, by being as fit as you can be. I was incredibly fit by the time I became seriously ill, and it’s that, I believe, that’s responsible for my being far less ill than my doctors expected me to be. So, if you have a condition that will probably become COPD 20-30 years down the line, being as fit as you can be will be immensely beneficial later in life. I found that walking – rambling and backpacking – fitted in nicely with my impaired breathing ability, and even improved it.

OK, it meant mostly walking solo, as finding a walking partner who was similarly impaired was impossible, but I was cool with that as I’m happy with my own company (and on your own you are far more in tune with the countryside around you). Be wary of walking in the company of people who can breathe normally – they’re liable to set a pace that you just can’t sustain. The idea is to improve your fitness and your breathing – not leave you a gasping wreck! And be careful where you put your inhalers. On one occasion, climbing a small, but steep, hill called Golden Cap, on the Dorset coast, I was alarmed to find, on reaching the top that every step had triggered my Ventolin inhaler in my shorts pocket, and it was empty. Ever after I kept my inhaler in my shirt pocket, and always carried a spare.

** Obstruction in this context means airways constriction.

There’s a lot of COPD info in this blog. Try this page for links to the most important posts, or use the search box at top right.