Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) includes two diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. About 85% of COPD patients are smokers or former smokers. Secondhand smoke and other toxins can also cause COPD. An inherited lack of certain proteins is also sometimes to blame. In both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the bronchi (tubes that carry air to the lungs) become narrow, making it harder to breathe. This narrowing is caused by direct damage to the bronchi. In chronic bronchitis, glands in the bronchi become enlarged and produce too much mucus, leading to plugging of the airways.
Symptoms may include:
Chronic cough which may be worse in the morning
Shortness of breath (especially with exercise)
Chronic and recurrent respiratory infections
Productive cough (mucus comes up with coughing)
Edema (fluid build up in ankles, hands, face and lower back)
Pink skin color
What your doctor can do:
Ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam
Ordering blood tests (including measurement of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood in the arteries) and a chest x-ray.
Order pulmonary function tests (breathing through a flexible tube to evaluate inhalation and exhalation abilities)
Order a CT scan of the chest too look for other causes of your symptoms
Prescribe medications like bronchodilators to help to open airways, corticosteroids to reduce lung tissue inflammation, mucolytics to help thin mucus and make it easier to cough up, and antibiotics if necessary to treat infections
Order supplemental oxygen
Recommend pulmonary rehab to help learn ways to make breathing more effective and to reduce shortness of breath
What you can do:
Stop smoking. It is the single most important thing you can do. Ask your doctor if you need help. There are many possible aids if you are ready to quit.
Start an exercise program with your doctor's permission and advice.
Organize your day to conserve energy for breathing, eating, and performing special tasks.
Take medicines as prescribed by your doctor. Report any side effects immediately.
Follow-ups are important so your doctor may evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.
Receive prompt treatment for any respiratory infection.
Get a single vaccination to prevent pneumonia and a yearly vaccination for influenza (the flu)
Practice breathing techniques daily to improve respiration.
What you can expect:
COPD is a permanent condition; symptoms may improve with medications and a lung rehabilitation program.
Complications may include congestive heart failure (difficulty breathing while lying down; edema or fluid retention of legs, arms, face, hands or back; crackling sounds in lungs; the inability to fall asleep while lying down); lung failure, cor pulmonale (unusual enlargement of the right side of the heart) and death.
Respiratory infections may become chronic due to the accumulation of mucous in the lungs.