What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Posted on: June 30, 2019

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to two long-term lung diseases — chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD makes it hard for you to breathe. Emphysema (which damages air sacs in your lungs) Chronic Bronchitis (ongoing inflammation in the tubes that bring air to your lungs)  Tubes called airways carry air into and out of your lungs. If you have COPD, these airways may become partly blocked from swelling or mucus. This makes it hard to breathe.

At the end of the airways are many tiny air sacs. They’re like little balloons that inflate and deflate when you breathe in and out. With COPD, these sacs become less flexible. This can cause small airways to cave in. It can also make it harder for you to breathe.

What Causes COPD? 

Cigarette smoking is the biggest cause. If you are around other smokers a lot, that can play a role, too. You might also develop this condition if you’ve been exposed to things like dust, air pollution, or certain chemicals for long periods of time.

In rare cases, your genes may put you at risk for COPD. People who lack a protein called alpha 1 antitrypsin (AAT) may be more likely to develop it. If they smoke and have COPD, it tends to get worse faster.

You might not have any symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) until it is somewhat advanced.

One of the first things you may notice is that you become out of breath pretty easily. You might be tempted to brush it off as a sign of getting older. Don’t. Shortness of breath is never normal. See your doctor if it happens to you.

Make an appointment, too, if you have any of these other telltale signs of COPD:

A cough that won’t go awayCoughing up a lot of “phlegm” or “sputum”WheezingBlue lips or fingernailsFatigue (extreme tiredness) most or all of the time

When to Call a Doctor

The following symptoms can mean that you have an infection or a more severe worsening of COPD. Call your doctor within 24 hours if you notice these things:

You’re out of breath or coughing more than usual.Being out of breath affects your daily routine.You’re coughing up more “phlegm” or “sputum” than normal. (This looks yellow, green, or rust-colored.)You have a fever over 101 F.You feel dizzy or lightheaded. Finding out whether you have COPD can take several steps. This includes talking with your doctor and getting tests, many of which are straightforward and painless.

Getting a Diagnosis 

First, your doctor will want to know your medical history, your symptoms and how long you’ve had them.

Symptoms for COPD may include: 

A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenishwheezing hard time breathingtightness in your chestlots of mucus (the slimy fluid you see in your cough up out of your lungs).Shortness of breath, especially during physical activitiesWheezingHaving to clear your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungsBlueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)Frequent respiratory infectionsLack of energyUnintended weight loss (in later stages)Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

COPD is not curable, but it’s important to get treatments for your symptoms to help slow the progress of the disease.

COPD makes it hard to breathe in as much air as you need. And without enough oxygen, you may have other problems, too. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do. If you smoke cigarettes, stop smoking. Speak to your physician about exercising as tolerated and also learn about how to prevent the following complications: 

Lung Infections

Your disease makes it harder to fight off lung infections like pneumonia.  Getting sick can then make it harder for you to breathe. Avoid those who are coughing or sick with a flu. Wash your hands often to avoid picking up these germs. 

At the end-stage, COPD is considered a hospice-appropriate disease and comfort care is required for the patient. 

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