Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of inflammatory lung diseases that cause progressive airway damage, ongoing airflow blockage, worsening breathing problems, reduced quality of life, and increased risk of mortality for about 16 million people in the United States. In up to 90% of these cases, smoking is to blame.
Given that smoking is the primary cause of COPD — and that quitting smoking is the most important first step anyone can take to slow COPD progression and ease its symptoms — it’s only natural to wonder: Can smoking cessation help reverse COPD altogether?
At Fivestar Pulmonary Associates in Allen, McKinney, and Plano, Texas, our seasoned team of board-certified pulmonologists knows that the right treatment approach can make a world of difference when it comes to managing COPD and protecting your long-term health.
Here, Dr. Anthony Nebor, Dr. Asif Najmuddin, and Dr. Deepthi Gandhiraj take a closer look at the positive — though not curative — effects smoking cessation can have on COPD outcomes.
COPD is the medical term for a group of inflammatory and progressive lung diseases that cause less air to flow through your airways, making it hard to breathe. Early symptoms may include:
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common lung diseases that contribute to the development of COPD. In most cases, a COPD diagnosis means having at least one of these lung-damaging diseases, and frequently having symptoms of both.
Chronic bronchitis aggravates and inflames the bronchial tubes that carry air into your lungs. This ongoing irritation and swelling can damage the hair-like structures (cilia) in the tubes that help clear mucus out of your airways.
Emphysema damages or destroys the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. Alveoli play a critical role in transferring oxygen from your lungs to your blood and transporting carbon dioxide waste back out. If alveoli aren’t healthy and fully functional, neither are your lungs.
COPD is both progressive and irreversible. This means that without proper management, it will worsen over time; it also means that the damage it inflicts on your lungs can’t be reversed or undone. This damage occurs in one or more of the following ways:
Smoking isn’t just the primary cause of COPD; it’s also the main cause of accelerated COPD progression and the top risk factor for COPD-related mortality: People who smoke are at least 12 times more likely to die from COPD than those who don’t smoke.
Why does this matter? For two reasons: Quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to slow or halt COPD progression and protect your health, and statistics show that nearly two in five people (39%) with COPD continue smoking cigarettes, despite the consequences.
Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 harmful chemical compounds, 200 of which are very toxic. Heavy smoking or smoking for a long duration can be so damaging to your lungs that people who do successfully quit smoking still carry a much higher-than-average risk of developing COPD decades later.
This may be explained by the fact that lung function decline in ex-smokers is faster than the normal, age-related lung function decline experienced by those who’ve never smoked. But it’s just as important to recognize that ex-smokers experience a slower decline in lung function compared to current smokers.
While quitting smoking is always the right health decision, doing so can’t reverse the damage already done by COPD. What it can do is help slow — and sometimes, stop — its progression to give you a better chance at improved symptom control and a more normal quality of life.
You can’t reverse COPD, but smoking cessation and a comprehensive treatment plan can help you effectively manage the disease and breathe easier. To find out how Fivestar Pulmonary Associates can help you accomplish all the above, call or click online to schedule a visit at your nearest office today.