Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
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:
The changes to lung tissue differ with the two diseases. However, they often occur together. The causes and treatment of each condition are similar.
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)
Factors that increase your chance of developing COPD include:
- 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: 40 years or older
Early symptoms of COPD include:
- Increased sputum production (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)
Your doctor will ask 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:
There is no cure for COPD. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
Quitting smoking slows the disease. It is the most important part of treatment. There are many programs to help you quit, including:
- Behavior change program
- Combination of behavior program and medication
Limit the number of irritants in the air you breathe. It may help make breathing easier. Avoid smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes.
Medication for COPD may help by:
- Opening the airways
- Relaxing the breathing passages
- Decreasing inflammation
- Treating lung infections (antibiotics)
Some medication may be taken as pills or liquids. Others are inhaled medications that are delivered directly to the lungs.
Oxygen therapy may be helpful if the oxygen levels in your blood are too low. It can relieve trouble breathing and improve energy. You may only need it for specific activities. It could also be given throughout the day.
Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles. This can make it easier to breathe.
Regular physical activity can reduce the workload on your lungs. It helps build their endurance. Physical activity is also associated with improved 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 your lungs. It can also help force trapped air out of your lungs. Effective coughing techniques can help clear mucus from your lungs. Ask your doctor if these techniques can help you. Some examples include:
- Pursed-lip breathing
- Controlled coughing technique