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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

COPD; Chronic obstructive airways disease; Chronic obstructive lung disease; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Bronchitis - chronic

 

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:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus
  • Emphysema, which involves destruction of the lungs over time

Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.

 

Causes

 

Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop COPD. However, 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:

  • Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution
  • Frequent use of cooking fire without proper ventilation

 

Smoking Myths & Facts

  • Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Quitting smoking doesn't help once you have COPD.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Smoking both marijuana and tobacco increases your risk of COPD.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Most people can quit smoking on the first try.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Smokers have more COPD flare-ups than nonsmokers.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Men's lungs are more likely to be damaged by smoking than women's.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Smoking is not addictive.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • How you smoke can affect how much nicotine gets into your body.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • When you quit smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer
  • Taking a puff of a cigarette can reduce your craving for more.

     

    A. Myth

     

    B. Fact

    Correct Answer

Symptoms

 

  • Cough, with or without mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Many respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity
  • Trouble catching one's breath
  • Wheezing

Because the symptoms of COPD develop slowly, some people may not know that they are sick.

 

Exams and Tests

 

The best test for COPD is a lung function test called spirometry. This involves blowing out as hard as possible into a small machine that tests lung capacity. The results can be checked right away, and the test does not involve exercising, drawing blood, or exposure to radiation.

Using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs can also be helpful. However, 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 (especially chest x-ray).

Sometimes patients need to have a blood test (called arterial blood gas) to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

 

Treatment

 

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:

  • Inhalers (bronchodilators) to open the airways, such as ipratropium (Atrovent), tiotropium (Spiriva), salmeterol (Serevent), formoterol (Foradil), or albuterol
  • Inhaled steroids to reduce lung inflammation
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as montelukast (Singulair) and roflimulast are sometimes used

In severe cases or during flare-ups, you may need to receive:

  • Steroids by mouth or through a vein (intravenously)
  • Bronchodilators through a nebulizer
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Assistance during breathing from a machine (through a mask, BiPAP, or endotracheal tube)

Antibiotics are prescribed during symptom flare-ups, because infections can make COPD worse.

You may need oxygen therapy at home if you have a low level of oxygen in your 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 can help maintain muscle strength in the legs.

Walk to build up strength.

  • Ask the doctor or therapist how far to walk.
  • Slowly increase how far you walk.
  • Try not to talk when you walk if you get short of breath.
  • Use pursed lip breathing when breathing out (to empty your lungs before the next breath)

Things you can do to make it easier for yourself around the home include:

  • Avoiding very cold air
  • Making sure no one smokes in your home
  • Reducing air pollution by getting rid of fireplace smoke and other irritants

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 eating foods with more calories.

Surgery may be used, but only a few patients benefit from these surgical treatments:

  • Surgery to remove parts of the diseased lung can help other areas (not as diseased) work better in some patients with emphysema
  • Lung transplant for severe cases

 

Test Your Knowledge of COPD Triggers

  • People with COPD should take care to avoid getting a cold or the flu.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • The air quality outside can affect your COPD symptoms.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Secondhand smoke doesn't affect people with COPD.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Smoke from a wood-burning stove can trigger a flare-up.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Painting your living room can trigger COPD symptoms.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • You can reduce your exposure to pollen by:

     

    A. Staying inside when the pollen count is high

     

    B. Using an air conditioner to filter air

     

    C. Removing indoor plants

     

    D. A and B

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
  • You can keep mold out of your home by controlling moisture.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Dust mites are common in dry areas of your home.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
  • Which of the following can cause a flare-up?

     

    A. Pet dander

     

    B. Pet skin flakes

     

    C. Pet urine

     

    D. Pet saliva

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
  • Your appliances can cause indoor pollution.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer

Support Groups

 

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

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

COPD is a long-term (chronic) illness. The disease will get worse more quickly if you do not stop smoking.

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 breathing machines and end-of-life care.

 

Possible Complications

 

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Need for breathing machine and oxygen therapy
  • Right-sided heart failure or cor pulmonale (heart swelling and heart failure due to chronic lung disease)
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumothorax
  • Severe weight loss and malnutrition
  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have a rapid increase in shortness of breath.

 

Prevention

 

Not smoking prevents most COPD. Ask your doctor or health care provider about quit-smoking programs. Medicines are also available to help kick the smoking habit. The medicines are most effective if you are motivated to quit.

 

 

References

Hoogendoorn M, Feenstra TL, Hoogenveen RT, Rutten-van Mölken MP. Long-term effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of smoking cessation interventions in patients with COPD. Thorax. 2010;65(8):711-718.

Agarwal R, Aggarwal AN, Gupta D, Jindal SK. Inhaled corticosteroids vs placebo for preventing COPD exacerbations: a systematic review and metaregression of randomized controlled trials. Chest. 2010; 137(2):318-325.

Shapiro SD, Reilly JJ Jr., Rennard SI. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 39.

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  • Smoking tips to quit

    Smoking tips to quit

    Animation

  • Animation

  • Emphysema

    Emphysema

    illustration

  • Spirometry

    Spirometry

    illustration

  • Smoking tips to quit

    Animation

  • Animation

  • Emphysema

    Emphysema

    illustration

  • Spirometry

    Spirometry

    illustration

A Closer Look

 

Talking to your MD

 

Self Care

 

Tests for Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

 
 

Review Date: 5/1/2011

Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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