COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD. These two conditions usually occur together and can vary in severity among individuals with COPD.

Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production and wheezing.

It's typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions.

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
  • Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

Risk factors for COPD include:

  • Exposure to tobacco smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers also may be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
  • People with asthma. Asthma, a chronic inflammatory airway disease, may be a risk factor for developing COPD. The combination of asthma and smoking increases the risk of COPD even more.
  • Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.
  • Exposure to fumes from burning fuel. In the developing world, people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes are at higher risk of developing COPD.
  • Genetics. The uncommon genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD. Other genetic factors likely make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease

COPD can cause many complications, including:

  • Respiratory infections. People with COPD are more likely to catch colds, the flu and pneumonia. Any respiratory infection can make it much more difficult to breathe and could cause further damage to lung tissue.
  • Heart problems. For reasons that aren't fully understood, COPD can increase your risk of heart disease, including heart attack
  • Lung cancer. People with COPD have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
  • High blood pressure in lung arteries. COPD may cause high blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood to your lungs (pulmonary hypertension).
  • Depression. Difficulty breathing can keep you from doing activities that you enjoy. And dealing with serious illness can contribute to the development of depression.

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent complications associated with COPD:

  • Quit smoking to help reduce your risk of heart disease and lung cancer.
  • Get an annual flu vaccination and regular vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia to reduce your risk of or prevent some infections.
  • Talk to your doctor if you feel sad or helpless or think that you may be experiencing depression

How is it diagnosed?

Tests may include:
  • Lung (pulmonary) function tests. These tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and whether your lungs deliver enough oxygen to your blood. During the most common test, called spirometry, you blow into a large tube connected to a small machine to measure how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs. Other tests include measurement of lung volumes and diffusing capacity, six-minute walk test, and pulse oximetry.
  • Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. An X-ray can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure.
  • CT scan. A CT scan of your lungs can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD. CT scans can also be used to screen for lung cancer.
  • Arterial blood gas analysis. This blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide.
  • Laboratory tests. Lab tests aren't used to diagnose COPD, but they may be used to determine the cause of your symptoms or rule out other conditions. For example, lab tests may be used to determine if you have the genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, which may be the cause of COPD in some people. This test may be done if you have a family history of COPD and develop COPD at a young age.

How is it treated?

Quitting smoking

  • Bronchodilators
  • Inhaled steroids
  • Combination inhalers
  • Oral steroids
  • Lung therapies
    • Oxygen therapy
    • Pulmonary rehabilitation program.

 

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