You’ve had a nagging cough for several weeks now. Walking up the stairs leaves you short of breath. Even moderate physical activity has become increasingly difficult. You may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
There are more than 12 million Americans who have been diagnosed with COPD and another 12 million may have COPD but have not been diagnosed yet. COPD refers to two types of lung disease that cause a person’s airways to become narrowed and clogged, making breathing difficult. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are both classified as COPD. In some cases, severe asthma may be considered a form of COPD.
What is COPD?
Your lungs contain bronchial tubes or airways that branch off into the alveoli or smaller air sacs. Air moves through the bronchial tubes into the alveoli where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood.
With COPD, the disease makes this process difficult. Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes and mucus blocks the passage of air into the lungs. Emphysema causes the air sacs to become irritated. Eventually they become stiff and don’t hold enough air, which makes the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange difficult.
Smoking is the primary cause of COPD in America. Asthma, environmental exposure to air pollution, a family history of lung disease and respiratory infections also may increase your risk of developing COPD.
How is COPD diagnosed?
Only your doctor can tell you if your symptoms indicate COPD. In addition to taking a medical history and doing a physical exam, your doctor may order a breathing test such as a pulmonary function test. This test uses a special machine to determine how well your lungs are working by measuring how deeply you can breath in and how much air you can expel from your lungs. You also may need blood tests or a chest X-ray.
How is COPD treated?
If you are a smoker and have been diagnosed with COPD, the most important thing you can do is stop smoking. Your doctor can help you find the best method to help you quit.
There are medications that are designed to help open up your air passages including inhaled steroids and bronchodilators. If you also have a bacterial infection, you may need to take antibiotics. Oxygen also may be prescribed to help you breathe.
If you or someone you love has symptoms of COPD, you should talk to your doctor. You can find a doctor by calling us at 281-949-3987.