Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD as it is also known, is the collective name for a group of conditions responsible for causing breathing difficulties, and encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
It is a common condition, usually affecting middle-aged or older people who smoke, although some cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust. Others are the result of a rare genetic problem which means the lungs are more vulnerable to damage. The symptoms tend to get worse over time and can limit normal everyday activities.
The main symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are:
- Increasing breathlessness, particularly when you’re active
- Persistent chesty cough with phlegm – some people may dismiss this as just a “smoker’s cough”
- Frequent chest infections
- Persistent wheezing.
Western medicine advises that patients to stop smoking, undertake a specialised regime of exercise to rehabilitate the lungs, use inhalers to ease breathing, and in severe cases, they may undergo lung transplant surgery.
Chinese medicine theory would view COPD as primarily deficiency of Lung-Qi, however, there would also be involvement of both the Spleen and Kidneys. As such, there are both external and internal pathologies underlying the condition. Externally, there will be invasion of exterior Wind, accompanied by Cold or Heat. As this is a chronic condition, this exterior pathology will play a role in the onset of the interior pathology of Spleen and Kidney deficiency.
The treatment approach would be to tonify the Lungs, Spleen and Kidneys, with the aim of strengthing Qi, resolving phlegm and stopping the cough. A TCM practitioner would normally employ both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
As this is considered a non-reversible disease, the main focus of the treatment should be to make patients as confortable as possible, and to bring the maximum level of relief from their symptoms.
However, from the point of view of both Western and Chinese medicine, COPD is considered to be preventable, particularly if people avoid smoking and limit possible exposure to harmful fumes or dust. This will help to reduce harmful damage to the lungs. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and ear acupuncture are often used to help those who wish to quit smoking, while medicinal herbs can be used to strengthen and tonify the Lungs.
In recent years, research has suggested that acupuncture may offer such relief to COPD patients. Other investigations in Chinese herbal medicine also show that when used alongside conventional treatments, herbal medicine may help to reduce the progressive risk of COPD patients developing lung cancer later in life.
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