Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Description of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disorder in which there is difficulty in emptying air out of the lungs (airflow obstruction). Due to this obstruction, patients experience difficulty in breathing or get tired easily because of this breathing strain. COPD is a general term used for chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or a combination of both.
Causes and Risk Factors
1. The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. 85% to 90% of COPD cases are diagnosed in patients who smoke.
2. Environmental factors: Those who have heavy exposure to dust, chemicals, or air pollution are more prone to COPD.
3. Genetic factors: There is a rare type of COPD called as alpha-1 deficiency-related emphysema, which is seen among people who have an inherited condition wherein production of alpha-1 protein that protects the lungs is affected.
Signs and Symptoms
Early symptoms include:
1. Chronic cough
2. Recurrent respiratory tract infection
3. Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
4. Production of excessive mucus (phlegm or sputum)
5. Wheezing sound

Late symptoms include:
1. Fatigue due to breathing difficulty
2. Cyanosis (a condition where lips, face, tips of fingers start turning blue)
1. Lab tests include complete blood analysis, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and arterial blood gas test may be done.
2. Imaging includes chest x-ray, which is usually sufficient to diagnose COPD. However, a CT scan too might be called for.
3. Others -- after a thorough examination and history taking, if the doctor suspects COPD, spirometry will be advised. Here one is asked to blow air through the mouthpiece attached to a machine, which will help in confirming the diagnosis. The test assesses the lung’s capacity to inhale, exhale, and hold air. 
1. Medications -- the most important part of treatment in smokers is to stop smoking. Medications that are usually prescribed are:
(a) Bronchodilators: To widen the airways
(b) Anti-inflammatory drugs: To reduce swelling of air passages, e.g., steroids
(c) Antibiotics: To treat infection with the lungs if any
(d) If the blood oxygen level is low, oxygen support needs to be given
To control symptoms patient should take prescribed breathing medications regularly as recommended.
2. Surgery -- in severe cases surgical procedures like lung volume reduction surgery or lung transplantation will be advised.
3. Others -- lung exercises must be done to help improve lung capacity.
Complications and When Should You See a Doctor
1. Changes in heart and respiratory system, which are evident on an electrocardiogram (ECG) and in clinical tests.
2. Chronic hypoxia (a condition where the oxygen that body gets is insufficient) that can be fatal.
3. The presence of cough with excessive mucus, breathlessness, and fatigue for a very long time or symptoms that do not regress.
Prognosis and Prevention
COPD is often preventable and treatable. Prognosis is generally excellent with right medications, lifestyle changes, and regular follow up. Hence, preventive measures like quitting smoking, avoiding exposure to causative factor along with regular intake of medication is must for patients to lead a normal life.
Did You Know?
1. WHO estimates that over 64 million people suffer from COPD in the world.
2. Estimates show that COPD becomes in 2030 the third leading cause of death worldwide.
Content Details
Last updated on:
01 Nov 2021 | 04:56 PM (IST)
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