DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother is in her early 70s. She has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. She had a bronchoscopic exam to remove a mucus plug. She was a very heavy smoker. She still smokes. She thinks her kids don’t know, but we have seen the evidence. She is on oxygen. Her doctor thinks she has quit. What does this do to her life expectancy? How long can she live this way? — J.S.
ANSWER: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, is two illnesses: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is a harmful stretching and destruction of the millions of air sacs found in the lungs. Through those delicate structures, oxygen reaches the blood. When they are damaged, a person cannot get enough oxygen and becomes breathless on even slight exertion. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the air passageways, the bronchi. They fill with thick, pus-filled globs of phlegm. Air cannot pass through them. A cough that produces of sticky, tenacious sputum is its chief sign.
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of COPD, but not the only one.
It’s hard to watch people ruin their own bodies and hasten death. That’s what your mother is doing. Tell her that the most important treatment for COPD is total abstinence from smoking. Abstinence allows lungs to recover from the damage done from inhaling cigarette smoke. It doesn’t achieve a complete reversal overnight. It does prolong life.
What does this do to her life expectancy? It shortens it. How long can she live? That can’t be foretold. Unequivocally, she will live longer and enjoy her life more if she never lights up again.
COPD is a major problem and the fourth-leading cause of death. The COPD booklet explains its causes and treatments. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 601W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have arthritis. Every time it rains, my pain seems to increase. I attend the Arthritis Foundation’s exercise classes, and we all have the same response to rainy weather. We’re wondering if this is due to increased humidity, low barometric pressure or just an “old wives’ tale.” — E.S.
ANSWER: A drop in barometric pressure along with an increase in humidity has been demonstrated to cause a flare of arthritis. It’s the exact set of conditions that happen prior to a storm.
Some arthritics experience more joint pain when temperature drops.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would appreciate reading your comments on the current rumor that microwaved food loses all nutritional value. — C.T.
ANSWER: That’s not a current rumor. It’s a piece of misinformation that has been circulating since microwave ovens appeared on the market.
It’s not true. Microwaving preserves vitamins and minerals better than almost any other method of cooking. Foods lose some of their nutritional value when they are boiled in lots of water; the water draws out some vitamins. Little water is used in microwave cooking.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.