Archive for the 'information' Category

Be Aware of COPD

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. Lung cancer is the #1 leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. More on that another day.

Smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer and COPD. It is one of the causes of heart disease. This blog is not going to be a diatribe against smoking. You all know it’s bad for you. You all know you should quit or not start. Enough said. Oh, as an aside, smoking marijuana is as bad for your lungs as is tobacco. Think twice before you smoke marijuana recreationally.

Dying from lung disease is very unpleasant. Yes, I’ve seen it. I’ll spare you the graphic details. Instead I’ll tell you what happens to the lungs in COPD and let you think about it.

First, a very brief anatomy lesson (with apologies to my anatomy professors). You have two lungs, one on each side of your heart in your chest cavity. The lung on the left side has two lobes and extends further down that the right lung, in order to make room for the heart, which tilts slightly to the left. The lung on the right has three lobes and does not tilt downward, in order to make room for the liver, which is below the diaphragm. Each lobe of the lungs is further divided into segments.

As you breathe, the air travels from your nose into your trachea, basically a tube in your throat. The trachea branches left and right into the left bronchus and the right bronchus (plural: bronchi), which divide into ever smaller tubes, called bronchioles. Imagine a tree with ever smaller branches. Each bronchiole ends in an air sac called an alveolus (plural: alveoli – I am so glad I took Latin in high school). This is where the air you breathe ends up.

Your blood vessels also get smaller and smaller as they enter the lungs. The smallest blood vessels, which should be full of gaseous waste products, transfer the waste into the alveoli and pick up oxygen from the alveoli. So, if your lungs are healthy, you breathe in oxygen and breathe out waste.

COPD is actually a pair of lung diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema, the walls of the alveoli have been damaged and either the alveoli can’t contract enough to expel the waste or the walls are too thick to go through the exchange process. In chronic bronchitis (-itis at the end of a word means inflammation), the irritated bronchial tree secretes mucus, lots of mucus. Eventually there is so much mucus that the individual with chronic bronchitis can’t expel it all. This interferes with breathing.

Both emphysema and chronic bronchitis progress slowly. But the end is an inability to breath, either because oxygen and waste can’t be exchanged or because there is an obstruction preventing breathing. Breathing is not only necessary for life. It is also necessary to perform the everyday tasks of life: eating, standing, dressing, brushing your teeth, even smiling and, of course, laughing.

There is no cure for COPD. The severity of the symptoms can wax and wane. It is not reversible. But life style changes and medications can make you feel better. Consult with your healthcare provider. Don’t smoke.

For more information:


Diabetes: Part I

The word diabetes comes from two Greek words meaning “siphon” and “to go”. Diabetes is the name given to several diseases having excessive urine as one of the primary symptoms. There are two kinds of diabetes: diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus


Diabetes insipidus is a disease resulting from kidney malfunction or hormonal imbalance. Its name means too much urine that is lacking in quality. People with diabetes insipidus urinate too often, drink to overcome the feeling of thirst, urinate more, and on and on.  No matter how much they drink they become dehydrated. Their urine is clear and colorless. Without treatment, they will die from dehydration. Diabetes insipidus is NOT related to diabetes mellitus.


Diabetes mellitus is a disease resulting from lack of insulin or an inability to use insulin properly. Its name means too much urine that is sweet. The sweetness comes from the body’s effort to rid itself of glucose (a type of sugar) that it was unable to use. That’s why some people call diabetes, sugar diabetes. There are three types of diabetes mellitus: gestational diabetes, Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.


Gestational diabetes occurs in three to eight out of a hundred pregnant women. Untreated gestational diabetes can harm the mother and the unborn baby. Unlike Types 1 and 2, gestational diabetes goes away once the baby is born. However, a woman who has had gestational diabetes is at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes as she gets older.


Type 1 diabetes results when the pancreas is unable to produced insulin. Insulin is necessary for your body to use the food you eat (broken down into glucose) for energy, wound healing, thinking and a lot of other ordinary functions we take for granted. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin by injection for their whole lives. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age.


The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown. Family history of the disease plays a part and some kind of autoimmune response may also be implicated.


Type 2 diabetes results when the pancreas is producing enough insulin but the body is unable to use it properly. The treatment for Types 2 diabetes generally begins with strict adherence to diet and exercise. Depending on the severity of the diabetes and the response to diet and exercise, treatment may also include oral medicine or insulin injections. There is no cure for Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes used to be a disease of old or middle age. Now children in grammar school are being diagnosed with diabetes.


Risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes include: family history of the disease, lack of exercise, poor diet and excess body weight.


Both types of diabetes mellitus are serious chronic conditions. If left untreated, both types can lead to life-threatening complications and death. Both types of diabetes mellitus increase the risk of an individual developing heart disease and stroke.


All individuals with diabetes mellitus need to be concerned about skin, infection and weight. Weight is an especially important issue, but is also especially difficult to manage, for those with Types 2 diabetes. Not only does extra weight make extra demands on the body’s need for insulin (as it does for everyone), but those with Types 2 diabetes have greater difficulty losing weight.


More on diabetes mellitus in future blogs.

Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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