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It's a lot easier to say COPD than chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and that is likely why you hear it called by its letters on TV commercials and in medical discussions. Whichever name you use, it's good to understand it and how to prevent it. After all, it is the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 11 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, but millions more may have the disease without even knowing it. In short, chronic inflammatory lung disease causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

Although COPD was generally described as a "man's disease" for years, statistics prove that wrong. Deaths resulting from COPD are higher in women, and for the following reasons:

  1. In the late 1960s, the tobacco industry intensely targeted women. This resulted in a huge increase in women smoking. We are still seeing new cases of smoking related diseases, including COPD, as women age.
  2. Women are more vulnerable than men to lung damage from cigarette smoke and other pollutants. Their lungs are smaller and estrogen plays a role in worsening lung disease.
  3. Women are often misdiagnosed. Again, because it was considered a man’s disease, many doctors still do not expect to see it in women, and therefore misdiagnose the disease.

COPD is caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. There can also be a genetic component. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, and a variety of other conditions.

Symptoms of COPD

So many symptoms of COPD are ignored or thought of as just the price of getting older, like the shortness of breath, until the disease is very advanced and more difficult to treat. Being aware of the early warning signs and getting the right treatment can manage the disease quite well and enable folks to live with their disease with a good quality of life. We say "managed" because the disease cannot be cured.

Symptoms include: (Fred, bulleted list here, please)
Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities.
Wheezing.
Chest tightness.
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.

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.

Treatment

  1. The very best treatment is never to smoke.
  2. The second best treatment is to quit smoking if you are a smoker.
  3. Your medical professional may prescribe medications such as bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, oral steroids, theophylline, antibiotics for inflammation, or others.
  4. Pulmonary rehabilitation may be required.
  5. Oxygen therapy may be recommended.

With a combination of treatments, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and regular visits to your medical provider, COPD can be controlled, and you can achieve the quality of life you deserve!

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