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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, abbreviated COPD, involves chronic inflammation of the lungs that reduces airflow. COPD is progressive and there is no cure. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD primarily affects middle aged and elderly adults and is not contagious. There are two main types of COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema – A lung disease in which the walls of the air sacs where gas is exchanged in the lungs become damaged. The air sacs may lose their shape or the walls may be destroyed, leading to fewer air sacs in the lungs and less oxygen exchange.

Chronic Bronchitis – A lung condition in which the lining of the airways of the lungs are constantly inflamed and irritated, causing the lining of the lungs to swell up. This causes a lot of thick mucus to form, making it hard to breathe.

People with COPD usually have both conditions. The severity of each condition may vary from person to person. Symptoms start slowly and a person with COPD may not know that it is present for many years.

COPD Factors:

Causes Symptoms Medical Treatment Lifestyle Changes
1. Smoking – 75% of people diagnosed with COPD smoke cigarettes or used to smoke cigarettes.

2. Breathing second hand smoke

3. Workplace chemical fumes or dust

4. Air pollution

A diagnosis of asthma may also play a role, but COPD related to asthma is often treatable.

1. Ongoing cough

2. Coughing up mucus

3. Shortness of breath with physical activity

4. A wheezing sound when breathing

5. Chest tightness

6. Frequent colds or respiratory infections

1. Use of a bronchodilator (inhaler)

2. Inhaled steroids

3. Vaccinations to prevent respiratory infections (flu shot)

4. Oxygen therapy

5. Surgery to remove damaged tissues – this is usually a last resort.

6. Pulmonary rehabilitation – may include an exercise program, disease management education, nutritional counseling, psychological counseling.

1. Stop smoking

2. Avoid second hand smoke or areas with lung irritants such as dust or airborne chemicals

3. Change eating habits to eat smaller, more frequent meals.

4. Take vitamins and supplements

5. Participate in physical activity as tolerated.


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