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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatments
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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD Is a group of lung diseases that make breathing difficult by blocking the airflow when a person exhales. The damage to the airways interferes with the carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange in the lungs. This happens when airways and air sacs lose elastic ability resulting in the walls between the airways becoming inflamed. The airways begin to make more mucus than normal effectively clogging the airways, while the walls between the air sacs are destroyed. The two most common conditions of COPD are emphysema and chronic asthmatic bronchitis.

Symptoms of COPD:

Some of the symptoms for COPD are:

  • Chronic coughing that produces large quantities of mucus
  • Shortness of Breath during physical activity
  • Wheezing producing a squeaky or whistling sound during breathing.
  • Tightness in the chest.
  • Fatigue

What Causes COPD?

There are a few causes for COPD. In most cases it is caused by long term exposure to lung irritants that cause damage to the lungs. The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoke. In the United States, smoking causes eighty to ninety percent of cases. Though cigarette smoking is the main cause, there are others factors that cause COPD such as air pollution, second hand smoke, chemical dust found in some work places such as coal mining, welding, and other occupational exposures.

Diagnosis of COPD

In cases where the patient has a persistent cough, wheezing, or abnormal chest sounds, the doctor will have further testing done and these test are:

  • Spirometry—this test is the most common test given, the test measures how much air the lungs can hold and how fast a person can blow the air out. The test is able to detect COPD and is tool that can measure the progression of the disease and the effect of the treatment.
  • Chest X-Ray—this imaging test can check for emphysema which is one of the main causes of COPD and rule out other both lung cancer and heart failure.
  • CT scan—is used to combine the X-ray images to create a more detailed image. It is used to detect emphysema and measure whether surgery is warranted and would be beneficial to the patient.
  • Arterial Blood Gas Analysis—is a test that measures how your lungs are performing moving oxygen into the blood stream and removing the carbon dioxide.
  • Sputum Examination—is test that measures the cells in the mucus (septum) this can see if there are any bacterial pathogens allowing for treatment preventing the causes of pneumonia. This test also rules out lung cancer.

Treatment of COPD

There is no cure for COPD as there is no way to reverse the damage to the lungs. The medicine given to patients is Bronchodilators that come as inhalers and help to relax the muscles around the airways. There is a short-acting bronchodilator that is used before activities and long acting bronchodilator that is used daily. Inhaled corticosteroid medicines reduced inflammation in the airways, but this medicine is only used on patients with moderate to severe cases of COPD as they can over time weaken patient’s bones and increases the risks for high blood pressure. Antibiotics are used to stop bronchitis, pneumonia and influenza that can aggravate COPD.

Surgery may be needed in some cases of severe emphysema. The surgery that would be used in such cases is lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplant. In the lung volume reduction surgery, the surgeon would remove small sections of damage lung tissue allowing for more space for the remaining lung tissue allowing the diaphragm to work better. A lung transplant helps one to breath better, but with one having to wait for a donated organ and it not actually increasing life expectancy it is not an option that is taken without much consideration.

How to prevent and manage COPD

One of the main ways to prevent COPD is to stop smoking. If the cause is through occupational hazards wearing a mask around dust and chemical fumes would be a good way to reduce the chance of inhaling lung irritants. Since there is no cure, if you do have COPD, the best way to manage it would be the same ways to prevent it, which would be to avoid lung irritants as well as seeking ongoing medical care.

This includes knowing where to receive help for symptoms. A person’s personal lifestyle also can affect COPD and learning effective breathing techniques. Using a humidifier and clearing mucus from air passages will help. Exercise can strengthen the respiratory muscles as well.