Older readers may remember the case of the singer Roberto Sanchez, who died after an agony. Breathing – an unconscious act, the kind that goes unnoticed even though life depends on them – had become a challenge for him. The popular Sandro (his stage name) suffered from a silent ailment caused almost exclusively by smoking, which progressively grows in the population and when detected, in addition to being incurable, severely affects the quality of life. It is about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is the third leading cause of death in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Quitting smoking at any age lowers the risk of lung diseases, which are very disabling.” Héctor Sale, president of the Medical College of Tucumán.
For this reason, in the month of COPD and lung cancer awareness (November), the Society of Respiratory Medicine of Tucumán (SMRT) carried out an information campaign for the community, in the downtown area of the capital. “Smoking is responsible for more than 85% of the diagnosed cases of COPD”, says the doctor to LA GACETA Hector Sale, president of the Medical College. The remaining 15% is attributed to air pollution, inhalation of dust particles and chemicals, and genetic factors, among others.
In turn, lung cancer is one of the most frequent worldwide, with more than 1.6 million deaths a year. This awareness-raising activity, carried out last Monday, was joined by students from the San Pablo-T University School of Medicine, who conducted surveys and gave talks to passersby. “Quitting smoking at any age reduces the risk of suffering from lung diseases, which are very disabling,” says Sale.
“Early detection saves lives.” Mirta Coronel, pulmonologist, president of the SMRT and head of the Respiratory and Sleep Unit of the Padilla Hospital.
In fact, after the passage of the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of respiratory function has taken on relevance, observes the doctor. “Today we see a lot of people who were left with sequelae due to bilateral covid pneumonia and who require permanent oxygen support,” he reflects.
Generally, this irreversible disease manifests itself in patients aged 40 to 60 years, who have smoked for decades. Their lungs are prematurely aged and rapidly regress, as they cannot hold a normal amount of air.
The doctor Mirta colonel -pneumonologist, president of the SMRT and head of the Respiratory and Sleep Unit of the Padilla Hospital- expresses that this type of activities serves to raise awareness about the disease, its causes and the importance of preventing it. “Early detection saves lives,” he confides. “COPD not only can but must be prevented,” he emphasizes.
But although the data seems discouraging, not everything is so bad: although this disease has no cure, it is preventable and treatable, Coronel emphasizes. “Detecting it early allows receiving timely treatment and modifying the quality of life of those who suffer from it, avoiding future complications,” he adds, and then adds other points that synthesize the main characteristics:
1, According to the recommendations of the Argentine Association of Respiratory Medicine (AAMR), almost 85% of people with COPD do not know it, as mentioned in the introduction to this article.
2, All smokers age 40 and over should have spirometry. This test consists of measuring the capacity of the lungs to take in and expel air; it is painless.
3, Initially, the patient may not have relevant symptoms. But over the years, the most common clinical manifestations appear: feeling short of breath, fatigue or shortness of breath, cough with production of bronchial secretions and sometimes wheezing in the chest.
4, Gradually, patients may feel drained from their daily tasks, such as climbing a flight of stairs, walking a pet, or simply getting dressed in the morning.
5, COPD consists of a progressive obstruction of the airways, and has two components: the destruction of the tissue that provides elastic support to the alveoli (emphysema) and the inflammation of the lining of the bronchi (bronchitis).
6, Specifically, this obstruction progressively limits the circulation of air in and out of the lungs.
7, In recent years, the increase in the COPD mortality rate in Argentina was much greater among women than in men. This shows that smokers are more sensitive to tobacco use.
8, In addition to tobacco, pollution is another factor that increases the risk of COPD. In fact, pollution is the most important environmental cause of illness and premature death in the world.
9, Walking at least one hour a day has been found to be equivalent to some respiratory rehabilitation programs.
10, Not all cases of COPD are dramatic. There are different grades.
Finally, doctors say that cutting off the bad habit of smoking stops the progress of the disease. It even reverses the effects if it is intervened when the first symptoms appear.