Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is used to describe chronic airflow obstruction in the lungs. Sometimes it is referred to as Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COLD) or as Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease (COAD). Regardless of what terminology is used it includes:
1) Chronic Bronchitis which involves chronic inflammation and narrowing of the large and small airways. Cough and sputum is present most days for at least three months per year for at least two consecutive years.
2) Emphysema which involves enlargement and destruction of the air sacs (alveoli) and supporting structures causing them to collapse. This may affect the exchange of gases e.g. carbon dioxide and oxygen leading to progressive shortness of breath. Cough and sputum may or may not be present.
3) Combination of bronchitis/emphysema and chronic asthma. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, sputum, wheezing and chest discomfort. Additional treatment will be required.
Who gets this condition?
Generally, adults develop this condition usually around age 60 but in people with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, the disease can manifest itself in people as young as 40 years of age.
What causes COPD?
The most common cause is cigarette smoking. Although only 20% of people who smoke get this condition, it is the 5th leading cause of death. Smoking destroys the inner lining of the airways, resulting in chronic inflammation and mucus buildup in the air passages and destruction of the air sacs. Smoking cessation is highly recommended. Exposure to certain things at the workplace can also contribute to the development of COPD for example working with asbestos, mining, welding. People with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may experience symptoms such as shortness of breath and signs of COPD much earlier in life and after less exposure to smoke.
How is COPD diagnosed?
The diagnosis of COPD is made by taking a detailed medical history and confirmed by special breathing tests to document airflow obstruction and to determine the severity of the condition. It is important to differentiate between asthma and COPD so the proper treatment and management is followed.
What can make symptoms worse?
Both indoor and outdoor pollutants can make breathing symptoms worse. For example: cigarette smoke, fumes, household cleaning products, humidity or temperature change, emotions or respiratory infections. Avoiding and reducing your exposure to these may be helpful. Respiratory infections should be treated promptly.