Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease in which the lungs have difficulty expelling oxygen-depleted air. If all the space in the lungs is taken up by air that should be expelled, there is no room for fresh air, full of oxygen. The term COPD refers to both the diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Although changes to lung tissue differ with the two diseases, the causes and treatment are similar.
COPD develops due to:
- Cigarette smoking
- Inhaling toxins or other irritants
- Genetic predisposition that can make a person's lungs more susceptible to damage from smoke or pollutants (includes alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
- Smoking cigarettes
- Long-term exposure to second-hand or passive smoke
- Family members with COPD
- Exposure to pollutants
- History of frequent childhood lung infections
- Age: 50 or older
Early symptoms of COPD include:
- Coughing in the morning
- Coughing up clear sputum (mucus from deep in the lungs)
- Shortness of breath with activity
As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- Increased shortness of breath
- Choking sensation when lying flat
- Trouble concentrating
- Heart problems
- Weight loss
- Breathing through pursed lips
- Desire to lean forward to improve breathing
- More frequent flare-ups (periods of more severe symptoms)
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include:
- Chest X-Ray
- CT Scan–a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the chest
- Blood tests assessing the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
- Lung Function Tests
There is no treatment to cure COPD. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
Quitting smoking slows progression of the disease. Doctors consider it the most important aspect of treatment. Smoking cessation programs may include behavior modification and medications to help you gradually taper off cigarettes.
Limiting the number of irritants in the air you breathe may help make breathing easier. Avoid smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes.
Medications may be taken by mouth or inhaled. Nebulizers and inhalers deliver drugs directly to the lungs. Drugs for COPD may work in the following ways:
- Opening the airways
- Relaxing the breathing passages
- Decreasing inflammation
- Helping thin secretions and bring up mucus from the lungs
- Treating lung infections (antibiotics)
Oxygen is given to supplement the air you breathe in. It can increase energy levels and heart and brain function by increasing the amount of available oxygen.
Because COPD makes patients prone to flu and pneumonia, doctors recommend getting vaccinated to help reduce the risk of getting severe pneumococcal disease. Avoid being around people who are sick.
Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles and make breathing easier. Physical activity builds endurance and improves quality of life. Follow your doctor's recommendations for activity levels and restrictions.
Breathing and Coughing Techniques
Special methods of breathing can help bring more air into and force trapped air out of the lungs. Coughing helps clear the lungs of mucus.
- Maintain a normal weight. Excess weight causes the lungs and heart to work harder.
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetable and whole grain foods.
- Eat several small meals during the day. It makes breathing easier.
- Avoid gas-producing foods. Large meals and excess gas swell the stomach, which pushes up on the diaphragm.
- Drink fluids to keep mucus thin.
- Pace your activities.
- Learn relaxation techniques and other methods to manage stress.
- Seek emotional support from professionals, family and friends. Anxiety can increase the rate of respiration, making breathing more strenuous.
A small number of patients may benefit from surgery.
You can reduce your chances of developing COPD by:
- Not smoking
- Avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke
- Avoiding exposure to air pollution or irritants
- Wearing protective gear if exposed to irritants or toxins at work