COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – also called COPD – denotes a group of diseases that cause decreased lung function and labored breathing. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common forms of COPD. These diseases damage the small alveolar air sacs of the lungs. This condition is progressive, but treatment options are available to manage it.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The beginning stages of COPD often produce no symptoms. As the damage to the lungs gradually becomes worse, patients may notice difficulty breathing particularly during physical activity. This shortness of breath is often accompanied by a tight feeling in the chest or wheezing. Excess mucus in the lungs, a chronic cough, fatigue, frequent respiratory infections, and cyanosis are also common symptoms. In the late stages, patents may suffer from unintended weight loss.

COPD is difficult to diagnose, particularly in the early stages, and may require extensive testing. Patients should discuss symptoms, smoking history and exposure to lung irritants with a physician. Pulmonary lung function tests are most often performed with a tool called a spirometer. This tool measures lung volume and strength. This is one of the tools that can detect COPD in earlier stages. Its use throughout treatment can determine disease progression. Chest x-rays can detect emphysema – one of the group of diseases described by COPD – and rule out other disease or infection. A simple blood test called an arterial blood gas analysis measures levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream. Low blood oxygen levels indicate decreased lung function. A CT scan, like a chest x-ray can detect emphysema. However, this tool gives doctors a more in-depth look at lung tissue. This helps doctors decide if a patient is a good candidate for surgery in the treatment of COPD.


In developing countries, poor air quality is a major cause of COPD. In the United States, however, the number one cause is cigarette smoking. COPD can also have a genetic link. In addition, COPD can develop as a result of exposure to air pollutants such as coal dust and industrial fumes.  Continue for Prevention information . . .

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