COPD: An Overview

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Are you a long-term smoker or a recent ex-smoker...?

do you have an unexplainable chronic cough...?

have you had multiple respiratory infections in the recent past...?

has it become harder for you to engage in physical activities without experiencing shortness of breath...?

well if so, you may be suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic, progressive disease of the lower respiratory tract in the lungs, which blocks airflow and makes breathing difficult.

What causes COPD?

The main cause of COPD is cigarette smoking...most individuals that suffer from COPD are smokers or ex-smokers...other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to air pollution, chemical fumes and/or dust.

How can cigarette smoke and other irritants lead to COPD?

Long-term exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritants such as air pollution and dust can result in irreversible damage to lung function...once lung function is damaged it becomes difficult to take in oxygen...once it becomes difficult to take in oxygen individuals develop COPD. In other words, cigarette smoke and other irritants destroy individuals' lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe normally.

What are COPD symptoms?

COPD symptoms include: shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, frequent respiratory infections, fatigue, consistent excess mucus, weight loss and blueness of the lips/finger tips.

If individuals are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms should they contact their health care provider?

Yes, COPD is a serious pulmonary disease that can lead to death...it is currently one of the top five leading causes of death in the United States of America.

How is COPD diagnosed?

Health care professionals diagnose COPD using a variety of tests including: pulmonary function tests, chest x-ray, CT scan and arterial blood gas analysis.

If individuals are diagnosed with COPD should they be encouraged to seek treatment?

Yes, untreated COPD can lead to: respiratory infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung cancer and death.

Is there a cure for COPD?

No, currently there is no cure for COPD.

How is COPD treated?

A health care provider may recommend/treat an individual with COPD with one or more of the following:

Quit smoking - Quitting smoking is the most vital component of a health care provider's treatment plan for COPD...smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of COPD and quitting is one of the only ways to prevent COPD progression. Therefore health care providers will strongly recommend quitting as soon as possible.

Avoid smoke and other irritants - In addition to quitting smoking, health care providers will also recommend avoiding places where other individuals smoke...consistent exposure to secondhand smoke can further lung damage and COPD progression so it is best to avoid it along with other, aforementioned, irritants.

Regular exercise - It may sound counterproductive to recommend regular exercise to individuals who cannot breathe well...however regular exercise is a key component to COPD rehabilitation...in the long run, regular exercise can improve overall strength and endurance as well as build up individuals' respiratory muscles, which can improve COPD symptoms...researchers recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day, most days of the week.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs - Pulmonary rehabilitation programs provide individuals suffering from COPD a chance to work directly with COPD specialists to receive a wealth of information and education on how to improve and live with COPD.

Oxygen therapy - Individuals suffering from COPD may NOT possess enough oxygen in their blood to carry out day-to-day activities...if this is the case health care providers will recommend oxygen therapy to increase oxygen blood levels and improve COPD symptoms.

Medications - A health care provider may use a variety of medications to treat COPD such as: albuterol (ProAir), ipratropium (Atrovent), tiotropium (Spiriva), fluticasone (Flovent) and budesonide (Pulmicort).

About the Author

Marc Macera, PharmD, RPh's picture

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