What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?
COPD refers to a group of lung disorders that are caused due to obstructions in your respiratory tract that block airflow making it difficult to breathe.
COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide.
The airways and air sacs in our respiratory system are like balloons.
They expand to accommodate the air that flows in and contracts to expel out air.
In COPD, the air flowing in and out is reduced due to one or more of the following:
- Issues with the elasticity of the airway and air sacs
- Inflammation or destruction of the wall surrounding the air sacs
- Clogging of airways due to excess mucus from an infection or other sources
Types of COPD
There are two main types of COPD.
In emphysema, there’s damage to the air sacs and the walls that separate them.
There’s also a loss in elasticity of the sacs.
Irritation and inflammation of the lining of the airways result in swelling and excess mucus production.
Symptoms of COPD
Most respiratory conditions present with a consistent set of symptoms that include:
- Chronic cough
- Difficulty taking deep breaths
- Shortness of breath
- Excess phlegm production
- Frequent respiratory infections
Risk Factors for COPD
Certain groups of people are more prone to COPD than others.
- Sex: Since 2000, more women have died of COPD in the US than men. Women seem to be more affected by tobacco and other pollutants that contribute to COPD than men. They also tend to be diagnosed late, which affects the prognosis.
- Age: People older than 65 years are more prone to COPD
- Exposure to irritants: People with higher exposure to environmental irritants like dust and pollution, secondhand smoke, and workplace irritants like chemical fumes are more prone to COPD.
- Genetics: People carrying certain changes (or errors) in genes influencing COPD risk have a higher chance of developing the condition.
Genetics of COPD
While environmental and lifestyle factors strongly influence COPD risk, emerging research suggests that certain genes play a vital role in this condition’s susceptibility.
Further, it’s been demonstrated that 8% of US FDA-approved drugs target molecules with genetic support from research studies.
The SFTPD Gene and COPD Risk
The SFTPD produces the surfactant protein D (SP-D) primarily in the lung.
It regulates pulmonary surfactants (a mixture of specific proteins, lipids, and carbs that help the functioning of air sacs), lipid homeostasis, and innate immunity.
Serum SP-D levels are associated with COPD.
According to a Mendelian study, people with certain changes in the SFTPD gene had higher SP-D levels and a lower risk of COPD.
The ATP2C2 Gene and COPD Risk
The ATP2C2 gene also influences COPD risk in a similar manner to the SFTPD gene.
It produces a protein called ATPase Secretory Pathway Ca2+ Transporting 2 that influences the SP-D levels.
More than 25 such genes influence COPD risk. You can get them all analyzed with the Gene Health Report.
Complications of COPD
COPD can result in several health complications.
Some of them are:
- Heart diseases
- Lung infections and cancer
- Memory issues
Diagnosis and Treatment of COPD
Along with some medical and family history, an array of tests like lung function tests, chest X-rays, CT scans, and other blood tests may be used to diagnose COPD.
There are several options for treating COPD.
Antibiotics and bronchodilators are some of the medications used to treat various symptoms and complications like infections and breathing difficulties.
These programs combine nutritional and psychological counseling, exercises, and disease management training.
Those with low oxygen saturation levels can benefit from the extra oxygen.
Quitting smoking and avoiding other pollutants at home and work can help alleviate the symptoms considerably.