COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a general term that encompasses several different types of lung diseases that all cause ongoing damage to the lungs. Sixteen million Americans have COPD today and about two million of them have the severe form of the disease. Symptoms of COPD can include repeated frequent ongoing respiratory infections, a persistent cough with increased mucus production, shortness of breath especially upon exertion, wheezing and tightness in the chest.
Two of the diseases that are included in COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Emphysema is a lung disease that causes a person to be short of breath and causes increasing problems with breathing upon physical activity or exertion. Emphysema is caused due to damage to the small air sacs in the lungs. This makes it much harder to exhale or expel air from the lungs. This is a gradual process and it starts taking a toll where even breathing takes a great deal of energy, other activities can be extremely hard or cause very labored breathing.
Chronic bronchitis is a condition which is sometimes diagnosed by its ongoing cough. This cough results in inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes. There is a lot of mucus produced in this disease as well which can block smaller bronchial airways. Bronchial asthma may be classified as COPD as well at times. This disease sometimes obstructs airways and causes bronchospasms, making it very difficult to inhale or breathe in air.
One of the biggest reasons a person retains lung damage is due to long term cigarette smoking. There are a few other ways that lungs can be damaged including cigar smoke, pipe smoke, second hand smoke, asbestos, and air pollution. People that have been constantly exposed to dust, fumes, vapors, and other chemicals are more likely to develop COPD than others. Also, people over the age of 40 are more at risk of developing COPD than those who are younger.
There are several ways to tell if a person has COPD. A licensed physician first will do a detailed history and physical which will include a family history of illness and a complete physical examination. Chest x-rays should be done along with pulmonary functions tests to see what the state of the lungs are and the extent of the disease present to date, arterial blood gases may be drawn to see how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in the bloodstream, other tests may be done on mucus or sputum to rule out infectious processes or the presence of a tumor.
There are several ways to treat COPD. Unfortunately it cannot be cured today. Physicians strive to reduce the progression of the damage to the lungs. The first step to improving COPD symptoms is to stop smoking. This keeps the person from getting any worse than they are at the present time. There are medications that can be used to improve breathing. Bronchodilators and inhaled steroids can be used on a daily basis to help reduce the inflammation of the lungs and help people to breathe better. These medications relieve shortness of breath and coughing. They also reduce stress on the lungs.
There are antibiotics for infectious processes that might be going on. There are also breathing treatments that can be used for people who do not respond well to oral medications. There are also steroids that can be injected that work quickly if needed to increase lung capacity. Oxygen therapy can be utilized by medical personnel as well to help a person breathe if their oxygen levels are lower than normal. There are pulmonary rehabilitation programs that are long term programs that can be utilized if your physician feels that these might be beneficial as well.
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