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COPD = (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
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"I had a lot of congestion in my lungs. I don't have that wheezing anymore. Its giving me a new perspective. I'm a teacher. I'd be teaching a classroom and I'd feel this congestion... it afffected my sleep. I did go to a medical doctor and he was going to give me steroids. I am interested in overall health. I tried apple cider vinegar, vitamin C and nothing seemed to cut through and work. There really isn't a problem now My lungs have cleared on and I can go on with my life. I feel clean and clear now."
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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production and wheezing. It's caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. It's characterized by daily cough and mucus (sputum) production.
Emphysema is a condition in which the alveoli at the end of the smallest air passages (bronchioles) of the lungs are destroyed as a result of damaging exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritating gases and particulate matter.
COPD is treatable. With proper management, most people with COPD can achieve good symptom control and quality of life, as well as reduced risk of other associated conditions.
Symptoms COPD symptoms often don't appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time, particularly if smoking exposure continues. For chronic bronchitis, the main symptom is a daily cough and mucus (sputum) production at least three months a year for two consecutive years. Other signs and symptoms of COPD may include: Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
Having to clear your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungs
A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)
Frequent respiratory infections
Lack of energy
Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse than usual day-to-day variation and persist for at least several days.
Causes The main cause of COPD in developed countries is tobacco smoking. In the developing world, COPD often occurs in people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes. Only about 20 to 30 percent of chronic smokers may develop clinically apparent COPD, although many smokers with long smoking histories may develop reduced lung function. Some smokers develop less common lung conditions. They may be misdiagnosed as having COPD until a more thorough evaluation is performed.
How your lungs are affected
Air travels down your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs through two large tubes (bronchi). Inside your lungs, these tubes divide many times — like the branches of a tree — into many smaller tubes (bronchioles) that end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli). The air sacs have very thin walls full of tiny blood vessels (capillaries). The oxygen in the air you inhale passes into these blood vessels and enters your bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide — a gas that is a waste product of metabolism — is exhaled.
Your lungs rely on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to force air out of your body. COPD causes them to lose their elasticity and over-expand, which leaves some air trapped in your lungs when you exhale.
Causes of airway obstruction Causes of airway obstruction include: Emphysema. This lung disease causes destruction of the fragile walls and elastic fibers of the alveoli. Small airways collapse when you exhale, impairing airflow out of your lungs. Chronic bronchitis. In this condition, your bronchial tubes become inflamed and narrowed and your lungs produce more mucus, which can further block the narrowed tubes. You develop a chronic cough trying to clear your airways.
Cigarette smoke and other irritants
In the vast majority of cases, the lung damage that leads to COPD is caused by long-term cigarette smoking. But there are likely other factors at play in the development of COPD, such as a genetic susceptibility to the disease, because only about 20 to 30 percent of smokers may develop COPD.
Other irritants can cause COPD, including cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, air pollution and workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes.
In about 1 percent of people with COPD, the disease results from a genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) is made in the liver and secreted into the bloodstream to help protect the lungs. Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can affect the liver as well as the lungs. Damage to the lung can occur in infants and children, not only adults with long smoking histories.
For adults with COPD related to AAt deficiency, treatment options include those used for people with more-common types of COPD. In addition, some people can be treated by replacing the missing AAt protein, which may prevent further damage to the lungs.
Risk factors for COPD include: Exposure to tobacco smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers also may be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
People with asthma who smoke. The combination of asthma, a chronic inflammatory airway disease, and smoking increases the risk of COPD even more. Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.
Exposure to fumes from burning fuel. In the developing world, people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes are at higher risk of developing COPD.
COPD can cause many complications, including:
Respiratory infections. People with COPD are more likely to catch colds, the flu and pneumonia. Any respiratory infection can make it much more difficult to breathe and could cause further damage to lung tissue. An annual flu vaccination and regular vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia can prevent some infections.
Heart problems. For reasons that aren't fully understood, COPD can increase your risk of heart disease, including heart attack. Quitting smoking may reduce this risk.
Lung cancer. People with COPD have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Quitting smoking may reduce this risk.
High blood pressure in lung arteries. COPD may cause high blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood to your lungs (pulmonary hypertension).
Depression. Difficulty breathing can keep you from doing activities that you enjoy. And dealing with serious illness can contribute to development of depression. Talk to your doctor if you feel sad or helpless or think that you may be experiencing depression.
Unlike some diseases, COPD has a clear cause and a clear path of prevention. The majority of cases are directly related to cigarette smoking, and the best way to prevent COPD is to never smoke — or to stop smoking now.
If you're a longtime smoker, these simple statements may not seem so simple, especially if you've tried quitting — once, twice or many times before. But keep trying to quit. It's critical to find a tobacco cessation program that can help you quit for good. It's your best chance for preventing damage to your lungs.
Occupational exposure to chemical fumes and dust is another risk factor for COPD. If you work with this type of lung irritant, talk to your supervisor about the best ways to protect yourself, such as using respiratory protective equipment.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. The disease is increasingly common, affecting millions of Americans, and is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The good news is COPD is often preventable and treatable. Here you'll find information, resources and tools to help you understand COPD, manage treatment and lifestyle changes, find support and take action.
The American Lung Association is committed to supporting those affected by COPD. We offer a variety of resources and information about the disease. Check out some of our key COPD support and education resources featured below. Or scroll down to explore our entire COPD section.
What is COPD and is it serious? See what it means to have this disease.
Find out what to expect from your doctor and how COPD is treated.
Living with COPD
It is inevitable that your life will change after being diagnosed with COPD. The good news is that you can find support to help you make lifestyle changes, better manage your COPD and enhance your quality of life.
COPD research helps us understand how the disease is caused, how it develops and how it is best treated. See some of the current topics American Lung Association funded researchers are investigating.
Lung Health & Diseases
Diagnosing and Treating COPD
Living With COPD
Help Us Fight COPD
Questions to Ask Your Doctor about COPD
Patient Resources and Videos
Doctors use lung function tests, imaging tests, and blood tests to diagnose COPD. There is no cure. Treatments may relieve symptoms. They include medicines, oxygen therapy, surgery, or a lung transplant. Quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to treat COPD.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (American Thoracic Society) - PDF
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
COPD: Learn More, Breathe Better From the National Institutes of Health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
Diagnosis and Tests
Blood Gases Test (American Association for Clinical Chemistry)
Breathlessness (American Thoracic Society) - PDF
Pulmonary Function Tests From the National Institutes of Health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) Also in
What other diseases or conditions contribute to COPD?
In general, three other non-genetic problems related to the lung tissue play a role in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 1) chronic bronchitis, 2) emphysema, and 3) infectious diseases of the lung.
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema, are thought by many to be variations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and considered part of the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by many researchers. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a chronic cough that produces sputum for three or more months during two consecutive years.
Emphysema is an abnormal and permanent enlargement of the air spaces (alveoli) located at the end of the terminal bronchioles in the lungs.
Infectious diseases of the lung may damage areas of the lung tissue and contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The preliminary diagnosis of COPD is diagnosed in a person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms by
erson with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has mild to moderate symptoms, often they can benefit from exercise programs that can increase their stamina and slow the advancing pace of COPD disease.
Diet, Supplements, Therapy, and Complementary Medicine for COPD
A number of over-the-counter (OTC) supplements and foods are reportedly helpful in reducing symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Home remedies for COPD include:
Vitamin E to improve lung function
Omega-3 fatty acids to decrease inflammation (found in supplements or foods such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, soybeans, canola oil)
Antioxidants to reduce inflammation (found in kale, tomatoes, broccoli, green tea, red grapes)
Breathing techniques relaxation therapy, meditation
Acupuncture COPD symptom reduction by needle placement
Other supplementary therapies such as treatment with antibiotics to reduce pathogen (viral, fungal, bacterial) damage to lung tissue, mucolytic agents to help unblock mucus-clogged airways, or oxygenation therapies to increase the available oxygen to lung tissues may also reduce the symptoms of COPD.
In some people, oxygen therapy will increase his/her life expectancy, and improve the quality of life. This is especially true with people with COPD who have chronically low oxygen levels in the blood. It may also help exercise endurance. Oxygen delivery systems are now easily portable and have reduced in cost in comparison to earlier designs.
Yoga may be another form of beneficial exercise that helps with breathing efficiency and breathing muscle control.
The person with COPD should discuss the use of any home remedies or supplements with their physician before beginning such treatments because some treatments may interfere with ongoing therapy.
When to call your doctor for COPD
A person should see their doctor if they experience any of the signs and symptoms of COPD and are members of a high-risk group for developing COPD, such as people who smoke.
In general, patients who notice an increasing shortness of breath that wasn't present recently, especially with any minor exertion should make an appointment to see their doctor. People already diagnosed with COPD who notice an increase in symptoms or have emphysema or chronic bronchitis that worsen should also see their doctor quickly.
Can COPD be prevented?
Except for COPD due to genetic problems, this health condition can be prevented in many people by simply never using tobacco products.
Other preventive measures include
Avoiding wood, oil, and coal-burning fumes
Limiting one's exposure to lung irritants such as air pollutants
Receiving recommended vaccines to avoid infections (for example, the flu) can help reduce lung damage and the COPD symptoms that accompany lung damage.
Which types of doctors treat COPD?
COPD is a long-term disease that can be progressive, so along with the patient's primary care physician, a pulmonologist specialist who treats lung disease is consulted to manage COPD symptoms with medications and other diagnostic tests. In addition, pulmonary rehabilitation specialists that can help with teaching the patient breathing exercises, physical and muscle strengthening along with nutritional counseling can help reduce COPD symptoms.
Depression and anxiety are common problems in individuals with COPD so having a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist on the patient's medical team can provide treatment for symptoms of depression or anxiety, provide counseling for the patient and/or family members, and help with setting up support networks.
Other medical professionals such as surgical specialists may be consulted if the patient qualifies for a lung transplant or requires lung reduction surgery for severe emphysema or needs other lung surgery.
In emergencies, people will COPD may be treated by emergency medicine physicians or medical critical care doctors (intensivists).
Your physician may suggest consultation with individuals to help you stop smoking, a common problem for people with COPD.
COPD Patient Education Program
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program of exercise, education, and support to help you learn to breathe and function at the highest level possible.
COPD Education Materials
Access a variety of free educational materials and publications created by the COPD Foundation for patients, caregivers and medical professionals.