COPD: The Underrated Killer.

By Dickson Leung.

Seldom do we hear about Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). We mostly hear about the communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. This is despite the fact that NCDs have been projected to overtake communicable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

Before we go any further, take a deep breath and exhale, slowly. We hope you enjoyed how easy and pleasing that was. Unfortunately, this is not the case for those with an NCD known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

COPD is an inflammatory lung disease that limits airflow and causes persistent respiratory symptoms. Individuals with COPD experience breathlessness, wheezing, coughs, and excessive sputum production. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported COPD as the 3rd leading cause of death globally.

More worrying is that 90% of these deaths occurred in middle and low-income countries. Even though the numbers continue to worsen, COPD is often under-recognized, under-diagnosed and thus undertreated.

For those with symptoms resembling COPD and wondering whether or not they have COPD, we recommend a visit to the doctor to help shed more light on your condition. Early diagnosis is always helpful.

Treatment of COPD is multifaceted. It involves the use of inhaled medication, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation. However, despite treatment, the airflow limitation in COPD is not fully reversible. This highlights the importance of turning our attention to prevention.

The risk of developing COPD is increased through various ways. These include: air pollution, and occupational exposures such as respirable dusts and fumes. Smoking tobacco products, including exposure to second-hand smoke, also plays a big role in increasing COPD risk.

A 2015 WHO report estimated that about 13.5% of Kenyans consume some form of tobacco, while 1 in every 5 Kenyans are exposed to secondary smoke. This is despite the law against smoking in public places.

For those who do not smoke, it is important to take steps to avoid unnecessary exposure to second-hand smoke. This is especially crucial for vulnerable members of the population, such as expectant mothers and children.

Further, it is worth noting that quitting smoking does not quite reverse the damage done to your lungs. However, it does make a difference in helping to slow down the loss of your lung function and increase survival. Therefore, it is never too late to stop smoking and stopping at any time will have a positive impact on your health.

We hope that this information helps deter readers from developing smoking habits, to avoid the risk of developing COPD. This is brought to the forefront of our minds, as current evidence shows that COPD has been observed to present a greater risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection.

In conclusion, this information is worth sharing, as we work together to increase awareness on COPD, and towards building safer communities for everyone. As always, an unhealthy society is not a blood donating society.

Dickson Leung is a medical student at the University of Edmonton, Canada.


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