COPD | Pulmonology & Critical Care | Loyola Medicine

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Overview and Facts about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a general term for several different progressive lung conditions. These conditions can interfere with normal breathing.

COPD is a long-term, chronic condition. There is no cure, and COPD is one of the top disease-related causes of death in the United States.

Fortunately, most cases of COPD are preventable. Smoking is the primary cause of COPD. If you're currently a smoker, quitting can help reduce your risk of developing most chronic lung conditions. Even if you already have COPD, avoiding cigarettes is a crucial part of staying healthy.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

People with COPD often have frequent respiratory infections. They may also cough up a lot of mucus. Other common symptoms of COPD include the following:

  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Fatigue

Many people assume that early COPD symptoms are a natural part of getting older, but these symptoms can actually suggest a serious medical condition. If you notice a persistent cough, shortness of breath, or unusual fatigue, report these symptoms to your doctor right away.

Causes and Risk Factors of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Over 85 percent of COPD cases are caused by smoking. Most people who develop COPD were smokers for many years.

However, it's important to remember that it's never too late to quit smoking. Even if you've been a smoker for most of your life, quitting can still help protect your health.

While it's less common, nonsmokers can sometimes develop COPD due to air pollution. Many nonsmokers who develop COPD were exposed to chemical fumes, dust, or smoke in their workplace. Long-term exposure to these irritants can trigger COPD.

Rarely, COPD can be caused by an inherited mutation. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a protein that helps protect the lining of the lungs. People with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can develop COPD even if they aren't exposed to irritants like cigarette smoke.

Tests and Diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

If you have symptoms of COPD, your doctor may begin by taking a health history. He or she may ask if you are a smoker or if you have been exposed to any airborne irritants during your lifetime.

Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray or blood tests. These tests can help rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Other lung-function tests, such as spirometry, can also help diagnose COPD. During a spirometry test, you'll blow into a tube attached to a machine that measures how much air you can exhale during a certain amount of time.

Treatment and Care for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

While COPD is not curable, treatment can extend your life and relieve your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend a variety of medications to help improve your breathing.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can also help you feel better. This treatment involves nutritional counseling and exercises to strengthen your body.

If your COPD is severe, your doctor may recommend that you see a doctor who specializes in pulmonary and critical care. Your pulmonologist may suggest surgery to remove damaged tissue and to help improve your breathing.