Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. 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.
COPD symptoms often don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time, particularly if smoking exposure continues.
Signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
- 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
People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse than the usual day-to-day variation and persist for at least several days.
COPD Causes and Risk Factors
Long-term exposure to things that irritate your lungs is the most common cause.
In the U.S., that’s cigarette, pipe, or other types of tobacco smoke. If you hang around other smokers and breathe in a lot of secondhand smoke, that can play a role, too.
Your odds also go up if you smoke and have asthma. If you smoke and have COPD, it tends to get worse faster. You might also develop this condition if you’ve been exposed to things like dust, air pollution, or certain chemicals for long periods of time.
Your age can also make COPD more likely. It develops slowly over the years, so most people are at least 40 when symptoms begin.
It’s rare, but your genes could put you at risk for COPD. If you lack a protein called alpha 1 antitrypsin (AAT), you may be more likely to get it.
What Are the Treatments for COPD?
There’s no cure, so the goal of treatment is to ease your symptoms and slow down the disease. Your doctor will also want to prevent or treat any complications and improve your overall quality of life.
One of the best things you can do to stop your COPD from getting worse is to stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about different things you can try.
Medical treatment: Your plan may include:
You inhale these medicines. They help open up your airways.
These drugs reduce airway inflammation. You could inhale them or take them as pills.
These inhalers pair steroids with a bronchodilator.
Your doctor might prescribe these to fight bacterial infections.
This drug stops an enzyme called PDE4. It prevents flare-ups in people whose COPD is linked to chronic bronchitis.
Flu or pneumonia vaccines:
These vaccines lower your risk for these illnesses.
This program includes exercise, disease management, and counseling to help you stay as healthy and active as possible.
You may need this to reduce shortness of breath, protect your organs, and enhance your quality of life.
In severe cases of COPD, the doctor may suggest:
Removes bullae, large air spaces that form when air sacs collapse
Lung volume reduction surgery:
Removes diseased lung tissue
Replaces a diseased lung with a healthy one