The Basics of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a disease of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. Most cases are caused by smoking. Exposure to the toxins in cigarettes cause permanent damage to the lining of the lungs. Types of COPD include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Our lungs get oxygen from the air and pass it into the bloodstream, where our blood carries oxygen to the organs that need it to survive. The lungs also take carbon dioxide from the bloodstream and out of the body. We need healthy lung tissue for this process. 

When an individual is living with COPD, the lining of their lungs is damaged and normal air exchange cannot happen. With chronic bronchitis, damaged lung tissue gets swollen and over-produces mucus, leading to chronic coughing and frequent infections. With emphysema, the smaller air sacs in the lungs are damaged and destroyed, lessening the surface area for air to be exchanged. Damaged lungs also become less elastic, and the waste product of carbon dioxide gets trapped in the lungs. These abnormalities cause shortness of breath and the feeling of “not getting enough air.” When the body does not get enough oxygen, a person can also feel fatigued and experience sleep disruption. 

Some things that you can do to prevent COPD:

  • Don’t smoke or breathe secondhand smoke.
  • Protect yourself from chemicals, dust and fumes. Wear filtration devices, such as masks and respirators.

Other risk factors include genetic conditions, childhood respiratory infections and exposure to air pollution. 

Testing can be done to determine if these symptoms are due to COPD or another problem, and an appropriate treatment plan can be developed.  Treatment can include lifestyle changes, pulmonary rehabilitation, inhaled oral corticosteroids and other medications, or surgery.

COPD is a serious chronic medical condition. If you are experiencing any shortness of breath, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections, blueness of lips or fingertips, fatigue or wheezing, it is important to discuss with your healthcare provider. 

Learn more about COPD at the American Lung Association’s website.  Need a healthcare provider? Visit Hello Brave, LifeBridge Health’s online physician directory.

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