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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

What Is Meant By Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition
    that involves a constant obstruction of the airways that results in difficulty
    breathing. COPD can be classified as either emphysema or chronic
    obstructive bronchitis, both of which usually develop from long-term
    cigarette smoking, but can also be caused by other irritants such as air
    pollution and chemical fumes. This condition affects nearly 12 million
    people in the US and is the fourth most common cause of death.
    Emphysema slowly destroys the air sacs in your lungs, which interferes with
    outward air flow. Bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the
    bronchial tubes, which allows mucus to build up.
    It’s estimated that about 30 million people in the United States have COPD.
    As many as half are unaware that they have it.
    Untreated, COPD can lead to a faster progression of disease, heart
    problems, and worsening respiratory infections.

Causes of COPD
Most cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants such as
cigarette smoke, secondhand smoke, air pollution and chemical fumes that
damage the lungs and irritate the airways.
COPD is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults, although
some younger patients may be diagnosed because of an alpha-1 antitrypsin
deficiency, a genetic condition.

  • What are the symptoms of COPD?
    Patients with COPD often experience:
    Chronic cough with mucus.
    Shortness of breath.
    Wheezing.
    Tightness in the chest.
    These symptoms are common among many smokers, and may be present years
    before COPD is diagnosed. Patients with COPD may also experience frequent
    colds or flu, along with swelling in the ankles, feet and legs in severe
    cases. Symptoms worsen over time, and may require a hospital stay if they
    become severe enough or do not respond to treatment.
    Early symptoms
    At first, symptoms of COPD can be quite mild. You might mistake them for a
    cold.
    Early symptoms include:
    Occasional shortness of breath, especially after exercise.
    Mild but recurrent cough.
    Needing to clear your throat often, especially first thing in the morning.
    You might start making subtle changes, such as avoiding stairs and skipping
    physical activities.

Diagnosing COPD
After evaluating your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may perform
lung function tests in order to diagnose COPD or a chest X-ray. A lung function
test measures how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you breathe and how well the lungs carry oxygen to the blood. The most common lung
function test is called spirometry.

Examine and tests
During the physical exam, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your
lungs as you breathe. Based on all this information, your doctor may order some
of these tests to get a more complete picture:
Spirometry is a noninvasive test to assess lung function. During the test,
you’ll take a deep breath and then blow into a tube connected to the
spirometer.
Imaging tests, like a chest X-ray or CT scan. These images can provide a
detailed look at your lungs, blood vessels, and heart.
An arterial blood gas test. This involves taking a blood sample from an
artery to measure your blood oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other important
levels.
These tests can help determine if you have COPD or a different condition, such
as asthma, a restrictive lung disease, or heart failure.

Treatment for COPD
Treatment can ease symptoms, prevent complications, and generally slow disease
progression. Your healthcare team may include a lung specialist (pulmonologist)
and physical and respiratory therapists.

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