You know it's strange to me that folks associate COPD with oxygen use in a negative connotation! Oxygen therapy enriches the blood with much needed oxygen and keeps the entire system - not just the breathing system - functioning!
Though COPD is a lung disease, it has far-reaching effects and leads to a host of other health conditions. COPD is actually the umbrella term for chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, emphysema, asthma, and other chronic obstructive lung diseases which combine in different ways for different people. One size does not fit all!
A recent study published in Thorax: An International Journal of Respiratory Medicine found that not only does COPD reduce your quality of life in the present, but it can also shorten your overall life expectancy by causing excess wear and tear on the cells in your body.
Researchers studied blood samples of 46,396 people and determined the amount of each person’s state of cell erosion by measuring the length of their telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that protect each cell’s DNA. As you age your cells divide. Each time they divide, a piece of the telomeres is cut off until there is nothing left. Once the protective tips have disappeared, the cells stop functioning, ultimately leading to organs shutting down and death. This process occurs naturally over time, but the study demonstrated an accelerated rate in people with COPD. Oxygen therapy slows this process and protects the telomeres.
Why Does This Happen?
Smoking is the most common source of COPD, but the disease can also be caused by genetics or long-term exposure to other lung irritants such as pollution, dust, or chemical fumes. As COPD progresses, damage to the lungs makes it more difficult to breathe. “In people predisposed to COPD, this damage accumulates over time, leading to progressive loss of cells,” says Antonello Punturieri, MD, PhD, program director and medical officer in the division of lung diseases at the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “The final result is an organ crash; the lung crashes; without the capacity to sustain the respiratory needs of the body.”
In addition to immediate damage to the lungs, COPD causes damage to other parts of the body by way of a downstream effect, explains Keith Robinson, MD, MS, a member of the COPD Foundation Clinical Advisory Committee (CAC) and a board certified pulmonologist and critical care medicine intensivist at North Broward Hospital in Florida. White blood cells are produced in response to damage that occurs because of COPD inflammation. In order for these white blood cells to be created, existing cells must divide, causing more damage to the telomeres and making cells wear and age faster than they normally would. Controlling the chronic inflammation associated with COPD alleviates this function. Some pulmonologists are prescribing low dose anti-inflammatories as on going therapy for COPD.
The Impact of COPD-Related Health Concerns
The possibility of potentially serious health concerns occurring alongside COPD makes it necessary to focus treatment on more than just improving airflow to aid breathing. Along with experiencing flare-ups and the inability to exercise, many with COPD are malnourished, and their weight loss can lead to muscle deterioration, impaired health, and death. A study of 424 COPD patients found that health care costs for malnourished patients were higher than costs for overweight or normal weight patients, primarily due to an increase in the number of times the malnourished patients had to go to the emergency room for treatment. Researchers believe it is important to measure muscle mass as part of routine check-ups in order to better monitor the overall health of COPD patients and improve their quality of life and life expectancy.
The link between COPD and other health conditions has been identified in multiple studies.
A study by the American Thoracic Society found that people with COPD are 2 to 5 times more likely to develop lung cancer than smokers who do not have COPD.
A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology showed that people with COPD have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another study, published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease identified a varied list of additional medical issues: malnutrition, osteoporosis, anemia, muscle deterioration, kidney abnormalities, and hormonal abnormalities.
Vitamins and Hormones published a study that explored the connection between vitamin D deficiency and an increase in severity of COPD, as well as with the prevalence of osteoporosis in COPD patients.
It is important to work with your health care provider to develop a treatment plan that focuses on all aspects of your health in order to achieve and maintain the best quality of life possible.
Ways to be Proactive and Stay Healthy
Here's what oxygen therapy can do for somebody with COPD:
Improve blood health. Severe COPD limits the amount of oxygen in your blood cells, which can affect your overall health. Improving the health of your blood will make you feel better and help to keep your organs healthier.
Stay active. Physical activity is important for staying well, especially if you have COPD. Increasing the amount of oxygen you get will allow you to remain active for longer periods of time.
Sleep better. If you have bronchitis or bronchiectasis, you know how uncomfortable it can be to wake up coughing in the middle of the night. Getting more oxygen will help you feel more rested.
Keep your mind working better. The brain needs oxygen to function properly, and it gets oxygen from your blood. Many COPD patients also see an improvement in their stress levels when they are on oxygen therapy.
Enjoy more of your favorite activities. If you opt for portable oxygen, you can continue to work, travel and do almost all of the activities you enjoy. Oxygen treatment does not mean you have to change your life completely. In fact, you will probably find that you can do more of the activities that you have been missing.
Yes, COPD can reduce your life expectancy. If you do not properly manage your symptoms, the risks for complications increase. But if you are proactive, you can help keep your body healthy, longer. “Good nutrition, quitting smoking, regular exercise, use of recommended medications, including oxygen therapy and taking care of other conditions are all expected to improve the quality of life of COPD patients and may improve life expectancy as well,” says Punturieri.
The next time you see somebody with oxygen, look past the tank, look them in the eye and SMILE! They're out and about and caring for themselves - not sitting at home feeling shame and embarrassment and giving up!