Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) 

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness. COPD is a progressive and incurable disease, but with the right diagnosis and treatment, there are many things you can do to manage your COPD and breathe better. People can live for many years with this disease and enjoy life.

Emphysema

In Emphysema the tiny, delicate air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs are damaged. The walls of the damaged air sacs become stretched out and your lungs actually get bigger, making it harder to move your air in and out. Old air gets trapped inside the alveoli so there is little or no room for new air to go. In emphysema it is harder to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide (the waste product of your breathing) out.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the breathing tubes (bronchial airways) inside your lungs. Tiny hair-like structures (cilia) line your airways and sweep mucus up, keeping your airways clean. When cilia are damaged, they can’t do this, and it becomes harder for you to cough up mucus. This can make your airways swollen and clogged. These changes limit airflow in and out of your lungs, making it hard to breathe.

Refractory (non-reversible) asthma

Refractory (non-reversible) asthma is a type of asthma that does not respond to usual asthma medications. In an asthma attack, bronchial airways tighten up and swell. Medications can usually reverse this, opening up the airways and returning them to how they were before the asthma attack. In refractory asthma, medications cannot reverse the tightening and swelling of the airways.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing (with and without mucus)
  • Increased breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest

What causes COPD?

Most cases are caused by inhaling pollutants; that includes tobacco smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc.), and second-hand smoke. Fumes, chemicals and dust found in many work environments are contributing factors for many individuals who develop COPD. Genetics can also play a role in an individual’s development of COPD—even if the person has never smoked or has ever been exposed to strong lung irritants in the workplace.

How is COPD Diagnosed?

A spirometry test measures how well your lungs are working. It’s a simple and easy test that can help diagnose COPD. When you take the test, you will be asked to blow all the air out of your lungs into a mouthpiece connected to a machine known as a spirometer.

The machine will calculate two numbers: the amount of air you blow out in the first second, and the amount of air you blow out in 6 seconds or more. Your doctor will read the results.

A person may have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease but not notice symptoms until it is in the moderate stage. This is why it’s important to ask your doctor about taking a spirometry test.

When to see your doctor?

If you are a current or former smoker, have been exposed to harmful lung irritants for a long period of time, or have a history of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in your family, speak to your healthcare provider. It’s easy to think of shortness of breath and coughing as a normal part of aging, but these could be signs of COPD. COPD can progress for years without noticeable shortness of breath. Ask your healthcare provider about ordering a spirometry test. Leaving symptoms misdiagnosed, untreated, or under treated may cause them to worsen faster than if they were treated with proper medication and therapy. Book your appointment online to schedule a visit with a CareMount Medical primary care provider.

Source: COPD Foundation