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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Dubai

15 November marks World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Day. Its primary purpose is to raise awareness of COPD symptoms, as for many years the disease doesn’t show definite signs. Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), although quite obvious, are often confused with other ailments.

Do you have troubles catching your breath after reaching the second floor? Do you feel tired after coughing in the morning? These might just be warning signs of COPD. In commemorating the 16th World COPD day, today’s article by Pacific Prime Dubai will shed light on the causes and symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, its prevalence in Dubai, risk factors to look out for, and treatments options.

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What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an umbrella term for a group of lung conditions including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma. The mysterious expression in the name of the disease is “obstruction.” In medicine, it means narrowing the inner diameter (the so-called light), for example, of a blood vessel or bronchi. The patient cannot push the air out of the lungs, but also getting the air is extremely difficult. A person who is experiencing bronchial obstruction suffers from shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and often makes wheezing sounds when breathing.

Causes and risk factors  

The leading cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. As per WHO, smoking is one of the biggest public health threats, as it’s the direct cause of more than 6 million deaths annually. In the UAE alone, the overall prevalence of smoking is 24.3% in males and 0.8% in females; that includes smoking cigarettes, cigars, and water pipes.

Smoking damages lungs in two ways. In chronic bronchitis, there is narrowing and clogging of the bronchi (airway tubes). In emphysema, the alveoli (air sacs) become enlarged and destroyed, which reduces the lungs’ elasticity.

Other causes include environmental factors such as outdoor and indoor air pollution (such as  Arabian incense bakhour), and occupational exposure to dust and fumes. Genetic factors, previous tuberculosis, maternal smoking, childhood asthma, and childhood respiratory infections can also contribute to developing COPD.

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Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Symptoms of COPD, or any other lung disease, develop slowly and gradually. Patients can have COPD for many years without noticing it. Symptoms such as shortness of breath or a persistent cough are often mistaken for other diseases like flu or a sign of aging, often making diagnosis really hard. Other common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Breathlessness;
  • A repetitive cough, often in the morning;
  • Increased phlegm or mucus production;
  • Fatigue;
  • Frequent chest infections;
  • Longer recovery from a cold or chest infection.

In time, everyday activities, such as walking, dressing up, or cooking, will start to become difficult, and the patient’s quality of life will also decrease significantly.

Diagnosis and treatment of COPD

If you see any of the above symptoms in yourself, it’s time to take some easy tests that can help to ascertain whether you suffer from any type of COPD. You can do it by testing the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood by tests called gasometry and pulse oximetry. Another way to check your lungs is to perform a Pulmonary Function Test, which is also referred to as spirometry or a lung X-ray.

If the tests show that you are suffering from COPD and the disease is not in an advanced stage, it is usually enough to quit smoking, eat healthily, and start to exercise systematically so that the illness does not develop further. Early diagnosis is key, as when COPD is treated at the initial stage, patients have a high chance of leading the rest of their lives normally.

However, if the condition is advanced, the chances of returning to full health is negligible, and the only thing patients can do is to bring relief to the symptoms. Patients must quit smoking, and start taking bronchodilators, expectorant, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Oxygen therapy is helpful at this stage, too.

In extreme cases, doctors may decide to undergo surgery. A life-saving treatment is a lung transplant or lung volume reduction surgery. Although it sounds paradoxical, cutting out part of the lungs changes the position of the ribs, thus making it easier to breathe.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Dubai

The prevalence of respiratory diseases in Dubai is growing consequently. Tobacco smoking is an increasing problem in Dubai both due to lack of awareness of the risks associated with smoking and treating tobacco consumption as a socializing agent. As the second largest risk factor in developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Dubai, air pollution is also a concern due to high levels of outside and inside air pollution – be it by rapid urbanization in the area and the general dry climate that causes sandstorms.

COPD is highly underdiagnosed in the MENA region and in the UAE itself. Spirometry and other tools to measure breathing functions are not available in every primary care physician’s office, making it difficult for some to get tested. There is also a tendency to over diagnose patients with Asthma and underdiagnose with other pulmonary diseases.

Does Dubai insurance cover the pulmonary function test?

Under Mandatory Health Insurance Law, all insurance plans must cover access to general physicians and referrals to specialist and laboratory services. That includes all tests and investigations provided to help a doctor diagnose an injury, illness, or condition, or to monitor the effectiveness of a particular treatment.

The minimum coverage plans come with an annual limit of Dh 150,000 per person on all claims and after that limit is reached, the policyholder must pay the rest of their medical expenses out of pocket.

Since the treatment costs of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Dubai can be high, testing lungs regularly is a safer and less expensive strategy than landing in the emergency room. If you’re worried about your yearly claims limits, you can always top up your company-sponsored health insurance plan, or you/your family’s plan.

Talk to Pacific Prime Dubai‘s insurance specialists today to learn more about your health coverage options in the Emirate and beyond.

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