When we think of the dangers of tobacco, we usually think of lung cancer. But it is not the only risk incurred. Dr. Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician and medical director of TipsForWomens, warns us about another consequence of smoking, which concerns many smokers.
Most smokers know that years of smoking can cause lung cancer. But few of them are aware that this habit can also affect their lungs in another, more insidious way. And you ?
COPD, a pathology that is too little diagnosed
This pathology is COPD (for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a common condition which mainly affects smokers. This is a serious form of bronchitis, which affects breathing and causes damage to the lungs.
“It is an insidious respiratory disease, which will develop little by little, ending in respiratory failure. It affects millions of smokers around the world. And, alarmingly, it is estimated that 70% of cases are not diagnosed, because the symptoms are still too trivialized.”
What symptoms should you worry about?
The first symptoms of COPD are often mistaken for small irritations without consequences. This is not the case.
“It’s a smoker’s cough, that is to say the little cough in the morning sometimes accompanied by spitting, phlegm. Contrary to popular belief, these are not common symptoms. They require consulting your GP or a pulmonologist, and undergoing respiratory function tests to check that there is no narrowing of the airways.
COPD is an inflammation of the entire respiratory tree which ultimately creates respiratory failure. Gradually, the lung has difficulty emptying due to the narrowing of the bronchioles. The alveoli, the small bags where gas exchanges with the blood take place, become distended. Weakened, they break and fuse together. Emphysema sets in with its symptoms.
Gradually, the symptoms worsen and the person experiences shortness of breath with exercise, then even at rest. Acting at the first symptoms can prevent this deterioration in health. “Respiratory failure means having to constantly have an oxygen extractor” reminds our expert.
A reversible condition when you stop smoking
If our doctor wants to highlight this pathology in this tobacco-free month, it is to emphasize prevention (treatments to stabilize COPD exist) but also to send an important message which can motivate smokers to quit:
“You should know that COPD is partly reversible, the inflammation already decreases within a few months. Respiratory cells grow back and respiratory capacity returns.”
It is also an opportunity to remember that, regardless of age and duration of smoking, there are always benefits to quitting.