Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. "Progressive" means the disease gets worse over time.

COPD can cause coughing that produces large amount of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust, also may contribute to COPD.


In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways because of one or more of the following:
  • The airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality.
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
  • The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed.
  • The airways make more mucus than usual, which tends to clog them.
In the United States, the term "COPD" includes two main conditions:
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic Bronchitis
In emphysema, the walls between many of the air sacs are damaged, causing them to lose their shape and become floppy. This damage can also destroy the walls of the air sacs, leading to fewer and larger air sacs instead of many tiny ones. If this happens, the amount of gas exchange in the lungs is reduced.

In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways is constantly irritated and inflamed. This causes the lining to thicken. Lots of thick mucus forms in the airways, making it hard to breathe.

Most people who have COPD have both emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis. Thus, the general term "COPD" is more accurate.


COPD is a major cause of disability, and it's the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 12 million of people are currently diagnosed with COPD. Many more people may have the disease and not even know it.

COPD develops slowly. Symptoms often worse over time and can limit your ability to do routine activities. Severe COPD may prevent you from doing even basic activities like walking, cooking, or taking care of yourself.

Most of the time, COPD is diagnosed in middle-aged or older people. The disease isn't passed from person to person - you can't catch it from someone else.

COPD has no cure yet, and doctors don't know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs. However, treatments and lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.


Your doctor will diagnose COPD based on your signs and symptoms, your medical and family histories, and test results.

You may also need one or more of the following tests to diagnose COPD:
  • Lung Function Test
  • Spirometry
  • Chest X-ray
  • Chest CT Scan
  • Relieving your symptoms.
  • Slowing the progress of the disease.
  • Improving your exercise tolerance.
  • Preventing and treating complications.
  • Improving your overall health.
To assist with your treatment, your family doctor may advise you to see a pulmonologist. This is a doctor who specializes in treating people with lung disorders.

  • Bronchodilators
  • Inhaled Glucocorticosteroids (Steroids)
If you have severe COPD and low levels of oxygen in your blood, oxygen therapy can help you breathe better. For this treatment, you're given oxygen through nasal prongs or a mask. You may need extra oxygen all the time or just sometimes.

For some people who have severe COPD, using extra oxygen for most of the day can help them:
  • Do tasks or activities, while having fewer symptoms.
  • Protect their hearts and other organs from damage.
  • Sleep more during the night and improve alertness during the day.
  • Live longer.

In rare cases, surgery may benefit some people who have COPD. Surgery usually is a last resort for people who have severe symptoms that have not improved from taking medicines. Surgeries for people who have COPD that's mainly related to emphysema include bullectomy and lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). A lung transplant may be done for people who have very severe COPD.


You can take steps to prevent COPD before it starts. If you already have COPD, you can take steps to prevent complications and slow the progress of the disease.

The best way to prevent COPD is to not start smoking or to quit smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. Many hospitals have programs that help people quit smoking, or a qualified hospital staff can refer you to a program. Follow your treatments for COPD exactly as your doctor prescribes. They can help you breathe easier, stay more active, and avoid or manage severe symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about whether and when you should get a flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccines. These vaccines can lower your chances of getting these illnesses, which are major health risks for people who have COPD.