Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used for group of chronic lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The disease is characterized by progressive and chronic obstruction of airflow. Restricted breathing increases the risk of hypoxia in patients suffering from COPD. Hypoxia is defined as a state of low level of oxygen in the body. When you breathe the oxygen inhaled in the air passes through the lungs into the blood. It is then supplied to each and every body cell.
Hypoxia occurs when there is mismatch in breathing and perfusion into the blood due to limited airflow as seen in emphysema and other COPD diseases.It can occur even if there is no abnormality in the blood. Prolonged hypoxia in COPD can affect quality of life of the patient. There is reduced tolerance to exercise with an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Long term oxygen therapy and medication help the patient to improve his survival.
What Causes Hypoxia In COPD?
Hypoxia is common feature in patients suffering from COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as the name suggests is chronic disease affecting the lungs. The two main diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In both this disease the cause of hypoxia is because patient has limitation in his breathing due to weakened lungs.Patient experiences difficulty in breathing as the lung parenchyma is destroyed.
When there is low oxygen with destruction of the pulmonary capillary bed, there occurs a mismatch between the ventilation and perfusion ration of oxygen. The consequence of hypoxia in COPD can lead to pulmonary hypertension, polycythemia, muscle pain, and neurocognitive dysfunction.
Cigarette smoking, air pollution, frequent respiratory tract infections, and family history are some of the factors that may increase the risk of COPD.
Signs And Symptoms Of Hypoxia In COPD
COPD is a chronic condition which occurs from the damage to the alveoli of the lungs and inflammation in the airways. Alveoli are tiny sacs in the lungs which function in exchanging the gasses. The exchange takes place in the tiny capillaries of the alveoli. However, when the alveoli of the lungs are damaged, it will limit oxygen saturation in the blood as the inflow of air is restricted. This may result in less oxygen available to the tissues and cell, leading to symptoms of hypoxia. These symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath even when patient is at rest.
- Patient gets fatigued and prostrated even with slight physical activity such as walking.
- Person sometimes wakes up from his sleep gasping for breath.
- Wheezing and strenuous breathing.
- Cough and sputum production for many years.
- Cyanosis (blue discoloration) of lips, tongue, and nails.
- Prolonged expiration through pursed lips.
- Person often has to lean forward extending his arm for easy breathing.
- Neck veins are distended with expiration and collapse for a while during inspiration.
Untreated COPD causing hypoxia can lead to more severe symptoms that include:
- pulmonary hypertension
- Heart failure
- Mild to moderate headache.
- Increased pulse rate.
- Polycythemia, a condition characterized by abnormal high count of red blood cells.
- Insomnia and difficulty in sleeping.
Treatment Options For Hypoxia In COPD
The severity of COPD is known by the level of oxygen in the blood. Hypoxia in COPD is best treated with oxygen therapy. Long term use of oxygen in hypoxia due to COPD helps to improve quality of life of the patient as well as it decreases the mortality rate. Severe hypoxic patients may need oxygen for 15 to 16 hours in a day. Oxygen is administered in the nasal cavity through nasal cannula into the airways and the lungs.
Continuous supply of oxygen as decided by the doctor will be beneficial in reducing shortness of breath and allow the lungs and heart to function at its optimum. Use of artificial oxygen is cost effective on long term basis in patients having hypoxia related to COPD.
Besides use of oxygen, medicines are used to facilitate easy breathing and reduce hypoxia. Patient may be prescribed medicines to decrease blood pressure, and chest pain. Medicines are also prescribed to prevent heart failure.
COPD is usually a progressive disease having frequent episodes of exacerbations and remissions. Certain additional measures will help the patient to slow down the progression.
- Cessation of smoking remarkably slows down the progression of the disease as well as hypoxia.
- Patient should stay away from air pollution.