Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that gets worse over time. It makes it hard to move air in and out of the lungs. Forms of COPD include:
These diseases often happen together. The causes and treatment are alike.
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COPD is caused by damage to the lungs from:
- Cigarette smoking
- Inhaling toxins or other irritants like wood smoke or dust and fumes at work
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin gene deficiency (rare)
Things that raise the risk of COPD are:
- Smoking cigarettes or other forms of tobacco
- Long-term exposure to secondhand or passive smoke (in any form)
- Exposure to pollutants
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
Early problems are:
- Coughing up mucus from deep in the lungs
- Shortness of breath with activity
As the disease gets worse, problems may be:
- Increased shortness of breath
- A choking feeling when lying flat
- Feeling very tired
- Problems with focus
- Weight loss
- Breathing through pursed lips
- Leaning forward to breathe better
- Flareups of these symptoms
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on a person's breathing. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.
Lung function tests will be done to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done with spirometry to test the force of a person's breath.
There is no cure for COPD. It will get worse over time. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and improve quality of life. A plan will be made with the care team.
A pulmonary rehabilitation program can be helpful. It offers education and tips to stay healthy. Other treatments are:
The risk of COPD can be lowered by:
- Not smoking
- Avoiding places where people smoke
- Avoiding air pollution and other irritants
Smoking will worsen COPD. There are a number of tools to help quit smoking, such as:
- Behavior change programs
- Nicotine replacement therapy, such as gum, patches, or sprays
- COPD. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/copd.
- Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of COPD. GOLD 2019.
- Living with COPD. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/copd.
- Kari Kuenn, MD
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