Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most common lung diseases. It makes it difficult to breathe. There are two main forms of COPD:
Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.
Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop COPD although some people smoke for years and never get COPD.
In rare cases, nonsmokers who lack a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin can develop emphysema.
Other risk factors for COPD are:
Since the symptoms of COPD develop slowly, some people may be unaware that they are sick.
The best test for COPD is a simple lung function test called spirometry. This involves blowing out as hard as one can into a small machine that tests lung capacity. The test can be interpreted immediately and does not involve exercising, drawing blood, or exposure to radiation.
Using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs can also be helpful, although sometimes the lungs sound normal even when COPD is present.
Pictures of the lungs (such as X-rays and CT scans) can be helpful but sometimes look normal even when a person has COPD.
Sometimes it is necessary to do a blood test (call a Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“blood gasĂ˘â‚¬Âť) to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
There is no cure for COPD. However, there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse.
Persons with COPD must stop smoking. This is the best way to slow down the lung damage.
Medications used to treat COPD include:
In severe cases or during flare-ups, you may need to receive steroids by mouth or through a vein (intravenously).
Antibiotics are prescribed during symptom flare ups, because infections can make COPD worse.
Oxygen therapy at home may be needed if a person has a low level of oxygen in their blood. Pulmonary rehabilitation does not cure the lung disease, but it can teach you to breathe in a different way so you can stay active. Exercise programs such as pulmonary rehabilitation are also important to help maintain muscle strength in the legs so less demand is placed on the lungs when walking. These programs also teach people how to use their medicines most effectively.
Things you can do to make it easier for yourself around the home include:
Eat a healthy diet with fish, poultry, or lean meat, as well as fruits and vegetables. If it is hard to keep your weight up, talk to a doctor or dietitian about getting foods with more calories.
Surgical treatments may include:
People often can help ease the stress of illness by joining a support group in which members share common experiences and problems.
See also: Lung disease - support group
This condition is a long-term (chronic) illness. The disease will get worse more quickly if one continues to smoke.
Patients with severe COPD will be short of breath with most activities and will be admitted to the hospital more often. These patients should talk with their doctor about the use of breathing machines and end-of-life care.
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have a rapid increase in shortness of breath.
Not smoking prevents most COPD. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about quit-smoking programs. Medicines are also available to help kick the smoking habit and the medicines are most effective if a person is motivated to quit.
COPD; Chronic obstructive airways disease; Chronic obstructive lung disease; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Bronchitis - chronic