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COPD is an inclusive term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. This disease is characterized by increased breathlessness.

Symptoms

COPD is often asymptomatic (without symptoms) until damage to the lungs has already been done. It’s a progressive disease in which most people have periods where they are relatively stable, alternating with intermittent exacerbations  of the disease.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially after exertion
  • Persistent, daily cough
  • Sputum production which can be clear, white, yellow, or green in color
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent lung infections
  • Chest tightness
  • Cyanosis (a bluish discoloration of lips and nail beds)

Additional signs and symptoms that may come with the more severe stages of the disease include weight loss, loss of appetite (anorexia), and fatigue.

Causes:

Some causes of COPD include exposure to cigarette smoking, whether you have smoked yourself or you’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke; exposure to chemicals; indoor and outdoor air pollution; and, far less often, a genetic disorder called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. People with asthma sometimes also develop COPD as well.

Types:

COPD is a term that is used to describe a group of lung diseases including:

  • Emphysema: A disease that results from damage to the alveoli, emphysema is mostly caused by smoking. Fewer alveoli are available because they are destroyed by inflammation and scarring, and those that remain become scarred themselves, lose their elasticity and cause air trapping. You can picture this as a balloon that has lost its elasticity but the air remains even when the balloon collapses (as with exhalation).
  • Chronic bronchitis: In chronic bronchitis, your airways are chronically inflamed, resulting in scarring and thickening. This process also frequently causes an increased production of mucus, filling the airways, further obstructing your breathing.
  • Bronchiectasis: The airways are dilated, which is often caused by recurrent respiratory infections during childhood. The inflammation also results in the production of mucus, obstructing the airways even more.

Quite often, people with COPD have a combination of these disorders simultaneously. It is also possible to have an asthma component with the disease, an important factor when considering treatment.

Treatment

COPD is not a capital punishment; with appropriate treatment, it can be controlled. That being said, there are factors that influence COPD life expectancy, especially the body mass index (BMI), the degree of airway obstruction, dyspnea levels, and the exercise tolerance.

The best treatment for COPD if you are a smoker is to quit as soon as possible. While this will not reverse the damage you already have, it can help slow the progression of your COPD.

Other treatment options include:

  • Quitting Smoking – If a person has COPD and they smoke, this is the most crucial thing they can do.
  • Medications and Inhalers – This makes breathing easier.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation – It is a specialised programme of exercise as well as education.
  • A Lung Transplant or Surgery – This is only a possibility for a minimal number of individuals.

The doctor will discuss the possible treatment options with the patient to ensure that the COPD symptoms are efficiently controlled.