Is there a difference between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema? What is the prognosis of this disease for a person on oxygen 24 hours a day?
The words “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” (COPD) accurately describe the condition. It is a permanent condition in which the passage of air to and from the lungs becomes partially obstructed, leading to breathing difficulty.
Emphysema is one of the causes of COPD. You will find differing explanations of which diseases COPD comprises, but for all practical purposes, it is emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking causes most cases of both these diseases; therefore, most COPD occurs as a result of smoking.
When you breathe, the oxygen in the air you inhale is exchanged for the carbon dioxide that you exhale. This exchange takes place in the alveoli, the tiny air sacs in the lungs located at the ends of the smallest airways, the bronchioles. Emphysema destroys the walls of the alveoli, in turn affecting the bronchioles and the very heart of the breathing process in the lungs.
Those portions of the lungs lose their elasticity, become sort of overstretched and enlarged. It is the enlargement that causes the airway obstruction and impairs the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. Some people with emphysema have difficulty inhaling and do not get enough oxygen into their blood. Others may also have trouble with exhalation and suffer a buildup of the waste gas, carbon dioxide, in their systems.
COPD cannot be cured or reversed and the progression cannot be stopped. However, there are numerous treatments, including oxygen, that can relieve the symptoms somewhat and make the patient more comfortable. Treatment may also help prevent conditions that may exacerbate COPD.
The primary treatment is to quit smoking. Preventing respiratory infections, such as influenza and pneumonia, is also important. Bronchodilator medications, such as those used to treat asthma, are commonly given for COPD.
An exercise program may be very helpful, along with exercises to strengthen the breathing muscles. Such a program must be carried out with medical supervision, of course. For severe cases of emphysema, there is a promising new surgical procedure called lung volume reduction surgery, in which the damaged portions of the lung are removed. Lung transplantation may be a treatment of last resort.
As to the prognosis for someone on round-the-clock oxygen, the best person to ask is the patient’s doctor. Without knowing the specifics of the individual’s case, I could only speculate on the health outcome.