There are two main forms of COPD:
- Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus
- Emphysema, which involves damage to the lungs over time
Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.
Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop COPD. But some people smoke for years and never get COPD.
In rare cases, nonsmokers who lack a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin can develop emphysema.
Other risk factors for COPD are:
- Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace
- Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution
- Frequent use of a cooking fire without proper ventilation
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Symptoms
Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Cough, with or without mucous
- Many respiratory infections
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity
- Trouble catching one's breath
Because the symptoms develop slowly, some people may not know that they have COPD.
Diagnosing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
The best test for COPD is a lung function test called spirometry. This involves blowing out as hard as possible into a small machine that tests lung capacity. The results can be checked right away.
Using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs can also be helpful. But sometimes, the lungs sound normal, even when a person has COPD.
Imaging tests of the lungs, such as x-rays and CT scans, can be helpful. With an x-ray, the lungs may look normal, even when a person has COPD. A CT scan will usually show signs of COPD.
Sometimes, a blood test called arterial blood gas may be done to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Treatment
There is no cure for COPD. But there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse.
If you smoke, now is the time to quit. This is the best way to slow lung damage.
Medicines used to treat COPD include:
- Inhalers (bronchodilators) COPD -- quick-relief drugs to help open the airways
- Inhaled COPD -- control drugs or oral steroids to reduce lung inflammation
- Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the airways
- Certain long-term antibiotics
In severe cases or during flare-ups, you may need to receive:
- Steroids by mouth or through a vein (intravenously)
- Bronchodilators through a nebulizer
- Oxygen therapy
- Assistance from a machine to help breathing by using a mask, BiPAP, or through the use of an endotracheal tube
Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics during symptom flare-ups, because an infection can make COPD worse.
You may need oxygen therapy at home if you have a low level of oxygen in your blood.
Pulmonary rehabilitation does not cure COPD. But it can teach you to breathe in a different way so you can stay active and feel better.
Living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
You can do things every day to keep COPD from getting worse, protect your lungs, and stay healthy.
Walk to build up strength:
- Ask your healthcare provider or therapist how far to walk.
- Slowly increase how far you walk.
- Avoid talking if you get short of breath when you walk.
- Use pursed lip breathing when you breathe out, to empty your lungs before the next breath.
Things you can do to make it easier for yourself around the home include:
- Avoid very cold air or very hot weather
- Make sure no one smokes in your home
- Reduce air pollution by not using the fireplace and getting rid of other irritants
- Manage stress in your mood
Eat healthy foods, including fish, poultry, and lean meat, as well as fruits and vegetables. If it is hard to keep your weight up, talk to a provider or dietitian about eating foods with more calories.
Surgery may be used to treat COPD. Only a few people benefit from these surgical treatments:
- Surgery to remove parts of the diseased lung, which can help less-diseased parts work better in some people with emphysema
- Lung transplant for a small number of very severe cases