What is COPD?

Pulmonary physicians reading lung images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD. However, the findings suggest that the number of people with the disease could be much higher than the figure reported. So what is COPD, and how can it be prevented?

What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and is the term used for a number of progressive lung diseases. The two main types of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema is a condition in which the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli – or the walls between the alveoli – lose elasticity, or become damaged.

Bronchitis is a condition in which the airways become inflamed, which is often accompanied by extra mucus production.

Typically people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have both emphysema and bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

COPD is often characterized by increasing difficulty in breathing. People with COPD typically find it more and more difficult to breathe as they age and the disease progresses. Symptoms also include pain or tightness in the chest, wheezing, coughing with mucus, and shortness of breath.

Your lungs are filled with tiny round air sacs called alveoli which are responsible for gas exchange. They help deliver oxygen to the blood, and remove carbon dioxide.

COPD occurs when the airways or alveoli lose elasticity, the walls between the air sacs are destroyed or inflamed, or the airways produce too much mucus and become clogged.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may not cause symptoms in its early stages. The symptoms do – however – get progressively worse.

What Causes COPD?

Smoking cigarettes is the number one cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 75% of people with the disease smoke, or used to smoke. Other things that cause COPD include air pollution, radon, toxic fumes, genetic mutations and dust. However, since smoking is the number one cause of COPD, the disease is highly preventable.

There are several tests doctors may use to detect or diagnose COPD including lung function tests, blood tests, and imaging tests.

How do you prevent COPD?

There’s no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The best way to prevent the disease is by giving up smoking, or never starting in the first place. The damage caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is irreversible.

Treatment options – such as surgery, lung transplant, medication, oxygen therapy – may help relieve the symptoms of COPD. If you think you may have COPD, talk to your doctor today.