COPD Affects Non-Smokers Too

In Singapore, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is among the top ten causes of death. Although smoking is the primary cause for COPD, there are other risk factors. Dr Ong Thun How, Senior Consultant, from the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), explains. (iStock photo)

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) essentially refers to lung function which has been damaged, usually by heavy smoking, in someone who is genetically susceptible to the disease. There are two forms of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. 

Risk factors for COPD

In Singapore, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) mainly affects people over the age of 40 and is a major cause of death. Its risk factors include:

  1. Cigarette smoking – the No. 1 cause of COPD (80 to 90 per cent of those diagnosed with the condition are chronic smokers)
  2. Exposure to secondary smoke
  3. Exposure to chemical fumes, excessive dust and pollutants at work
  4. Recurrent respiratory infections

Related article: Have questions on COPD and smoking? Ask our specialist

Symptoms of COPD

COPD is an irreversible disease which becomes progressively worse if left untreated. People with very severe COPD feel breathless even at rest and may suffer lung failure eventually. Common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Persistent cough with mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Respiratory infections

Related article: Pneumonia can kill. Know the symptoms and how to prevent it

Weight loss is common in COPD patients

The following factors can cause people with COPD to lose weight:

  1. Burning up more energy than normal even for the simplest physical activity
    Even normal activities like dressing and washing will require high-energy output, resulting in weight loss.
  2. Feeling too depressed to eat
    The debilitating effects of COPD on everyday life can affect the patient's emotional and psychological well-being – and interest in food.

A COPD patient can expend five to 10 times more energy than a healthy person for basic activities like breathing, so getting enough fuel from food becomes critical in managing the disease, explains Dr Ong Thun How, Senior Consultant, from the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

"(For patients with COPD) It is important to maintain a healthy body weight. If you're overweight, the extra weight makes it even more difficult to breathe, but if you don't consume enough calories to replace what you use up on a daily basis, you will end up with wasting of the diaphragm and other pulmonary muscles. And if you are a smoker, stop smoking completely," he adds.

Related article: Can COPD be reversed? How is the condition treated?


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