COPD

COPD is an incurable pulmonary disease in which breathing becomes increasingly difficult.

COPD is a disease of the lungs that begins gradually but becomes more and more serious. It begins with a seemingly harmless cough – the familiar smoker’s cough – and in many cases ends with so much difficulty breathing that a normal life becomes impossible.

As the name smoker’s cough already indicates, smoking is the chief cause of the occurrence of COPD. Incidentally, the name is an abbreviation of the English name for the disease: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is a permanent lung disease in which breathing is difficult. In addition to smoking, long-term inhalation of fine dust (for example during work) can also cause COPD.

The feeling of suffocation that is so characteristic of COPD occurs because cigarette smoke (or fine dust) damages the lungs. As a result, the lungs become constantly inflamed, so that they create a large amount of mucus and the lung tissue is slowly but continually destroyed. The longer this process continues the more difficulty the patient has with breathing. Whereas at first the COPD patient only has trouble breathing during (intense) effort, after a while he must constantly gasp for breath even while sitting calmly on a chair. Finally, the patient can become an invalid, be confined to a wheelchair and become dependent upon extra oxygen 24 hours a day.

A few statistics on COPD:

  • On average, people with COPD live 9 years less than people without the disease
  • Worldwide, over 80 million people suffer mild to serious COPD
  • Annually over 5 million people die of COPD
  • In the Netherlands, 2 percent of all people have COPD
  • Among people of 80 years or older this is 17 percent

Thus far, COPD is incurable. The treatment consists of decreasing the complaints. Stopping smoking is the first requirement. In addition, the use of medications (anti-inflammatories, pulmonary dilators, oxygen) can decrease the complaints somewhat. A good physical condition by means of extensive physical activity also helps lessen the intensity of the complaints. At best, this results in a delay in the rate at which the seriousness of the disease increases.

Precisely how the disease COPD arises on the level of the cells in the lungs and how it worsens – the so-called pathogenesis of COPD – is still unclear. Nor is it clear why some people suffer from COPD after years of smoking and others do not. Of all smokers, an average of one out of four contracts COPD. Scientific studies, including the COPACETIC project, will hopefully make it clear why this happens. The researchers of COPACETIC will examine hereditary factors in COPD. They suspect that differences in hereditary predisposition determine why one smoker does contract COPD and another does not.  It is hoped that the study will yield an answer to the question of which (variants of) genes determine whether a person is more or less susceptible to COPD. Insight into the hereditary factors in COPD may also help us learn more about the occurrence and worsening of COPD. This knowledge could then lead to new, better forms of therapy for the disease.