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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Definition

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease. COPD makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. It will make breathing difficult. COPD includes:

  • Emphysema —air sacs of the lungs are damaged
  • Chronic bronchitis —airways of the lungs are damaged

The changes to lung tissue differ with the two diseases. However, they often occur together. The causes and treatment of each condition are similar.

Normal and Emphysemic Lung
Normal Lung and Emphysemic Lung
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

COPD is caused by damage to the lungs. This damage is caused by:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Inhaling toxins or other irritants
  • Genetic predisposition that makes the lungs more vulnerable to damage from smoke or pollutants—includes alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency

Risk Factors

COPD is more common in adults who are older than 40 years old.

Factors that increase your chance of developing COPD include:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Long-term exposure to secondhand or passive smoke (in any form)
  • Family members with COPD
  • Exposure to pollutants
  • History of frequent childhood lung infections
  • Smoking unusual forms of tobacco, such as Chinese waterpipes

Symptoms

Early symptoms of COPD include:

  • Coughing
  • Increased sputum production—mucus from deep in the lungs
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath with activity

As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Choking sensation when lying flat
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Weight loss
  • Breathing through pursed lips
  • Desire to lean forward to improve breathing
  • Periods of more severe symptoms

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your doctor will need to test how impaired your lungs are. This may be done with:

  • Lung function tests (spirometry)—to test the force of your breath
  • Blood test—to test oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood

Your doctor may also need detailed pictures of your lungs. This may be done with:

  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan

Treatment

There is no cure for COPD. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.

Treatment includes:

Prevention

Take these steps to reduce your chance of developing COPD:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Avoid exposure to air pollution or irritants.
  • Wear protective gear if exposed to irritants or toxins at work.
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