What is Lung Disease?
Just as the name suggests, lung disease is any of a number of disorders that impact the lungs. You have two lungs which are the main organs responsible for the process of breathing. The lungs are part of a system that never stops in order to bring oxygen into your body, and to expel carbon dioxide as you breathe. Any disorder or problem in this respiratory system can result in lung disease. Lung disease is very common, impacting millions of people in the United States alone.
What Types of Lung Disease are Common in Women?
Lung disease can impact both males and females of any age. However, the diagnoses in women are increasing, making lung disease a major concern for women’s health. Lung disease involves a number of different conditions which can range from simple short-lived inflammation of the airways to lung cancer with the possibility of death. Some of the most common lung diseases in women include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and lung cancer.
What Causes Lung Disease?
The wide range of lung diseases makes it difficult to pinpoint all of the potential causes. However, common factors include genetics, infections, and smoking. Some lung diseases like the flu are caused by viruses or bacteria. Other lung diseases are commonly caused by exposure to harmful substances such as smoke, air pollution, asbestos, or radon. Prolonged exposure to any of these increases your risk of developing lung disease.
What are Common Symptoms of Lung Disease?
Early symptoms of lung disease can be vague and hard to identify. One of the first symptoms is often a general feeling of tiredness and low energy levels. Other symptoms are more directly related to breathing and lung function. You may find that you have trouble breathing in or out, and you may have pain in your chest when you breathe. You may also experience shortness of breath, feel like you can’t get enough air, or have trouble exercising. You may notice a cough that just won’t go away or one that produces blood and/or mucus. These are all potential signs of lung disease and should be discussed with your doctor.
COPD and other Diseases of the Airways
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is considered an obstructive lung disease. This category of lung diseases impacts the airways and causes them to narrow, blocking the flow of air and making it difficult to exhale. Other lung conditions in this category include chronic bronchitis and asthma. The two can occur together, but bronchitis typically involves a cough, and asthma is primarily marked by wheezing and difficulty breathing. Cystic Fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease of the lungs as well as the digestive system. This disease causes the body to produce thick mucus that obstructs the lungs and the pancreas.
Interstitial Lung Disease, Sarcoidosis and Pulmonary Fibrosis
Restrictive lung disease is when inflammation or scarring of the lung tissue makes it difficult to inhale. Breathing in and fully expanding the lungs becomes difficult. Sarcoidosis and Pulmonary Fibrosis are common types of restrictive lung disease. You may hear some of the lung conditions in this category called interstitial lung disease. Interstitial lung diseases refer to any conditions that affect the interstitium—a thin lining between the air sacs of the lungs.
Pulmonary Vascular Lung Disease
Lung disease and heart disease can be closely related. The blood vessels that flow into the right side of the heart have low oxygen levels. The heart then pumps blood into the lungs through the pulmonary arteries to replenish the oxygen supply that will be taken throughout the body. When these blood vessels become diseased, it can cause issues related to both the lungs (pulmonary) and the blood vessels (vascular). Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels through the heart and into the lungs where it can become lodged in a pulmonary artery, causing low levels of oxygen and shortness of breath. Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. This can cause chest pain as well as shortness of breath.
How is Lung Disease Treated?
Lung disease can vary widely in its cause, symptoms, and severity, so your treatment options will depend on your condition. In general, treatment is concentrated on improving breathing and decreasing symptoms. Identifying and treating the underlying cause can help to reduce inflammation and prevent continued scarring of the lung tissue.
Treatment for lung disease typically consists of a combination of approaches including lifestyle changes, medication, steroids, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove lung tissue or to perform a lung transplant in severe and advanced cases.
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers around the world and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Lung cancer starts in the lungs, but may then spread to other organs of the body or the lymph nodes. There are different types of lung cancer and different forms of treatment. The most common treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Lung cancer is so deadly because it lacks early symptoms, and that means it has often already spread by the time it is detected. Regular screening is not typically done for lung cancer, but some doctors do screen with CT scans for early detection. If you have any risk factors for lung disease or develop any symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor right away.
Can I Reduce My Risk of Lung Disease?
Yes. There are some lifestyle changes anyone can make that will help keep your lungs healthy and lower your risk of developing lung disease. The most important lifestyle choice is to stop smoking. Any type of smoking (cigarettes, vaping, cigars, marijuana, pipes, etc.) causes lung damage. There are a variety of supports available to help you quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about how you can quit today. If you are a non-smoker, don’t start. And do your best to avoid second-hand smoke.
Protecting yourself from environmental air pollution is also important for helping to prevent lung disease. Everything from dust to industrial chemicals to household products like paint, solvents, and cleaners should be avoided. If you must use them or be around them, be sure there is good airflow and that you have protective equipment such as a mask.
Asbestos is a fibrous material typically used in construction materials and certain car parts. Breathing in the fibers causes scarring in the lungs and can lead to lung cancer. If your work environment contains asbestos exposure, be sure your employer is providing protection and training to limit your risk. Radon is a gas that is common in homes and in the workplace. You can test for radon and there are systems that can be installed to mitigate exposure to the harmful gas. If you are at risk for exposure to any of these, talk with your doctor. A routine spirometry test to measure your breathing will help to monitor your lung function, and catch any increase in issues that could indicate lung disease. Lung disease can have important implications specific to women at all stages of life, including during pregnancy.
It’s important to talk with your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing. The doctors and staff at The Woman’s Clinic are committed to providing the women of Mississippi with state-of-the-art, high-quality care in a comfortable, private, and secure setting. Contact us today to make an appointment and address all your obstetrics, gynecology, and general healthcare needs.