Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
spirometry, COPD, chronic, pulmonary

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

 COPD is a chronic degenerative disease of the lungs whereby the airways become irreversibly narrowed and the lung’s ability to function is compromised.

It is characterized by two common disease processes:

1. Emphysema.

Air sacs form in the lungs in COPD from loss of elasticity. As a result, the air is trapped and there is difficulty in bringing air in and out of the lungs.

2. Chronic bronchitis.

The airways become swollen and filled with mucus

In 2011, COPD was the 8th leading cause of death and 7th leading cause for hospital admissions in Singapore.

  • What causes COPD?

  • What are the symptoms of COPD?

  • How can COPD be diagnosed?

  • How is COPD treated?

What causes COPD?

The main cause of COPD in Singapore is smoking, including second hand smoking. It is not surprising to see COPD patients in our clinic who are non-smokers. Other risk factors include cooking with biomass fuel in enclosed space, air pollution and occupational hazard.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The symptoms of COPD may be quite similar to asthma:

  • Chronic cough
  • Breathlessness – may be progressive with time or acute episodic in exacerbations
  • Wheezing and/or chest tightness
  • Mucus and sputum production

As the condition progresses, one’s activities such as walking, doing household chores and grocery shopping can be severely limited by the breathlessness. However, in the early stages, the disease can be completely asymptomatic until there is substantial lung damage (>50% of lung damage before symptoms occur). We encourage all our patients who are chronic cigarette smokers to do a screening spirometry to detect.

How can be COPD diagnosed?

Spirometry (a lung function test) is the gold standard for diagnosing COPD. It is performed in our clinic daily and is a simple breathing test using specialized equipment that will allow the respiratory physician to diagnose COPD as well as other types of lung conditions like asthma and other lung conditions. In our specialist clinic, the tests are performed by trained technician/nurse according to the American Thoracic Society standards.

How is COPD treated?

COPD is usually treated with a combination of:

  • Inhalers – bronchodilator, steroid
  • Oral inflammatory medication
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Lung rehabilitation and chest physiotherapy
  • Antibiotic and mucolytic in exacerbations
  • Non-invasive ventilation in progressive and end stage disease

It is of prime importance for smokers to quit smoking to prevent/delay the progression of COPD. This can be done under professional guidance of a respiratory physician in our clinic, with the usage of oral medications to quit smoking. Regular physical exercise as well as vaccinations against pneumococcus and influenza are highly recommended, as they may cause severe COPD exacerbation and lung infections in COPD patients.