Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook
Search NetWellness

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)


What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive condition characterized by airflow obstruction, where the ability to empty air out of the lungs is impaired. COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis or a combination of both conditions. Asthma is also a disease characterized by airflow obstruction, but it is generally not considered to be a part of COPD. Asthma is more reversible than COPD. Some patients with COPD may also have some degree of asthma.

Not all patients with COPD are alike and symptoms vary a great deal. While this is a chronic condition and will never go away, there are treatments available that help to control the symptoms and improve lung function.

What causes COPD?

The most important cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. Exposure to certain gases, fumes, dust, chemicals and air pollution can also contribute to COPD. Factors that make a particular smoker more susceptible to develop COPD are not fully understood. However, genetics play an important role in certain individuals.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

Symptoms are usually mild at first or sometimes completely silent, but become worse over time. Shortness of breath, sometimes wheezing, fatigue, weakness and cough, with or without mucus, are the most common symptoms of COPD. If such symptoms are present, a simple breathing test, "spirometry," which measures the degree of airflow obstruction, is often indicated.

Treatment of COPD

Non Surgical

The most important treatment is to quit smoking to stop further damage to the lungs.

Medications are usually prescribed to treat the symptoms: bronchodilators are used to open up the airways, steroids are used to decrease the inflammation and swelling of the airways. Antibiotics are sometimes used to fight infections that can complicate the disease. Supplemental oxygen may also be prescribed in patients with low oxygen levels. A comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program of exercise, education, diet and behavioral modification is another treatment modality for COPD. Prevention and treatment of a respiratory infection is also very important. Patients with COPD should receive a pneumococcal vaccine and a yearly flu shot. Other treatments may include anti-anxiety agents and emotional support.

Surgical procedures

Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) may be an option for some patients with emphysema. This procedure involves removing the most damaged parts of the lungs to allow the rest of the lungs to function more normally.

Lung transplantation is another option for some patients with COPD. Lung transplant involves removal of one or both lungs, with replacement of donor lungs. Patients undergo extensive evaluations for consideration of lung transplantation. Pulmonary rehabilitation before and after both surgical procedures is necessary to have a better outcome.

COPD Statistics in USA

- Fourth leading cause of death (projected to be the 3rd leading cause of death by 2020)

- About 16,000,000 people diagnosed with COPD and possibly another 14,000,000 undiagnosed - 100,000 deaths per year

- The total estimated cost of COPD in 2002 was $32.1 billion.

For more information:

Go to the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: May 20, 2008

Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Clinical Program Manager of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University