What is COPD

COPD is a shortened version of diagnosis chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; it is a progressive, chronic collection of lung diseases. The airflow from your lungs is obstructed so you will experience breathing difficulty, cough, increased mucus, and wheezing. When you have been diagnosed with COPD, you are also at an increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions. The most common lung diseases that contribute to COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Often, they occur at the same time with severity differing from person to person. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will always get worse over time and does not have a known cure. There are treatments for COPD so you do have the ability to control your symptoms and reduce the risk of other common co-occurring conditions.


You will not notice any symptoms until your lungs have already been damaged, and they start slowly. You may attribute your symptoms to getting older, but they are worse than those demonstrated by the people your age without COPD. The symptoms will always get worse over time and if you are still smoking, then you will only speed up your irreversible lung damage. The most common signs that you have COPD are:

* Shortness of breath during physical activities that are strenuous or mundane
* Wheezing
* Tightness in your chest
* Chronic, nagging cough
* Increased clear, white, yellow or greenish mucous
* More frequent infections in your respiratory track
* Decreased energy
* Weight loss that is unintended
* Ankle, foot and leg swelling

The main symptom that people with COPD experience from stage II and beyond are called exacerbations. You may need to seek treatment in the hospital, use steroids, and take antibiotics to help relieve these flare ups. When you are having a flare up, your day to day symptoms are worse and they last longer, up to several days.

When to see a doctor

If you start to notice that you have a cough that does not improve or you are starting to have more frequent respiratory infections, you should take the time to talk to the doctor. If your symptoms are not improving with your at home treatments, you get a fever, or you notice a change in the color or amount of mucous you are producing, you may need a different treatment plan. If you find that you are not able to catch your breath, you notice your lips or nailbeds have taken on a blue hue, or your heart rate has increased, your oxygen levels are too low and your doctor can help improve them. Without treatment, COPD can even leave you feeling foggy and struggling to concentrate.

The main reason most people in developed countries are diagnosed with COPD is smoking. In other parts of the world and for the remaining of nonsmokers with COPD, regular exposure to chemicals, fumes, dust, and pollution damage the lungs over time. Not every smoker will develop COPD, but most people who have long smoking histories will develop decreased functionality in their lungs. Other smokers develop less common lung problems that can be misdiagnosed as COPD until more testing is completed.

Causes of airway obstruction

* Emphysema
Emphysema is a lung disease where the alveoli experience destruction of their delicate walls and fragile elastic fibers. As you exhale, the small airways collapse so the air is not able to leave your lungs as easily.

* Chronic bronchitis.
Itis indicates inflammation so your bronchial tubes suffer from inflammation causing them to be narrower. In response, your lungs produce more mucous so your bronchial tubes are even more blocked. As a result, you cough in an attempt to clear the airway to help your breathing.

* Cigarette smoke
For 85-90% of people with COPD, their lung damage is a result from cigarette smoking over a long period of time. While it is the most common reason, there are additional causes for it and not all smokers will develop COPD.

* Other irritants
Cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, air pollution, dust, smoke, and fumes cause lung irritation and repeated exposure at work or in your home can damage the lungs.

* Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
A rare genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein that is made in the liver which protects the lungs causes COPD in about 1% of all the people with COPD. The protein is called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) and it is carried in the bloodstream from the liver to the lungs. Without this protein you may not only develop COPD but you would have liver disease as well as lung disease. The treatment for this type of COPD includes the same options as the treatment for other types of COPD. There is also a treatment that can replace the missing AAt protein to prevent further damage to the lungs.

Risk factors

* Exposure to tobacco smoke
Long term cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor for developing COPD. The longer you smoke, the more you smoke per day, the more at risk you are for developing COPD. Cigarette smoke is not the only smoke that can put you at risk for COPD so pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers may be at risk too. People exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke at work, in the car, or at their home are also at a higher risk.

* People with asthma
Asthma causes chronic inflammation in your airways. If you have asthma and you are a smoker, you are at an even greater risk of developing COPD.

* Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals
If you work in an environment that has air filled with chemical fume, vapors and dusts without having proper ventilation, then those irritants in the air will inflame your lungs. Burning fuel from cooking and heating can increase your risk of COPD so people in the developing world with poorly ventilated homes are damaging their lungs.

* Genetics
Depending on your family history and your genetic predisposition, you may have the disorder that causes a deficiency in the alpha-1-antitrypsin protein.


Can You Get Better with COPD