You are here


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder is a common pulmonary disease

The term chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder refers to a number of diseases that affect the lungs, blocking airflow and making breathing difficult. The two main conditions included in the term COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Most people who are diagnosed with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

COPD is a progressive disease, one that gets worse over time. Lung damage can’t be reversed, but treatment and therapy can improve symptoms and minimize further damage.

In patients who have COPD, the lungs work much less efficiently than in people with healthy lungs. In people with COPD, airflow is reduced because of one or more of the following conditions in the airways and lungs:

  • The elasticity of the airways and air sacs is lost
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed
  • Mucus thickens the walls of the airways, and they become inflamed
  • More mucus than usual is produced and the airways become clogged

Causes of COPD

The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking over a long period. Other types of tobacco smoke, including pipes and cigars, can also contribute to COPD, particularly if the smoke is inhaled. COPD is most common among people who are over the age of 60.

Other factors, including genetics, likely play a role in the development of COPD as well. Some people who have asthma may also develop COPD, but that is uncommon.

Symptoms of COPD

The main symptoms of COPD include:

  • A chronic (long-lasting) cough
  • A cough that produces mucus
  • Shortness of breath that is worse when you exercise

As the disease worsens, shortness of breath may be caused even by simple, everyday activities such as getting dressed or preparing a meal. In addition, as the disease progresses, flare-ups will occur more often and it gets harder to exercise and even just breathing takes more energy.

Treatments for COPD

Before you are treated for COPD, you will need a thorough and careful evaluation by a physician. Treatments for COPD can reduce or alleviate symptoms, make it easier to exercise and reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups, or exacerbations.

If you are a smoker, the most important thing you can do to improve your symptoms is to quit smoking. Avoiding second-hand smoke and other air pollutants is also important. The coughing or wheezing symptoms can be treated with medications.

Medications that may be used in the treatment of COPD include:

  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the airways
  • Beta2-agonists, which are bronchodilators to open airways
  • Anticholinergics, which are also bronchodilators, can reduce mucus production
  • PDE4 inhibitors to reduce COPD flare-ups

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a treatment program that is designed to meet each patient’s individual needs. Plans may include learning strategies for conserving energy and better breathing, and nutrition counseling, along with COPD management techniques that can increase your quality of life.

Patients who have low oxygen levels in their blood may be given supplemental oxygen.