What is COPD?
If you have COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, you are not alone. Over 12 million adult Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and an additional 12 million may not even be aware that they have it. COPD is a progressive disease of the lungs. When you have COPD, the airways of the lungs are partially obstructed. This makes it difficult to get air in and out of the lungs. This can make it hard for you to breathe. COPD develops over time, typically due to long-term exposure of the lungs to cigarette smoke or other environmental irritants. Shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing that may produce large amounts of mucus are all symptoms of COPD.
Healthy lungs are elastic. They expand when you inhale and then contract again when you exhale to move air in and out of your lungs.
With COPD, lungs lose their elasticity and no longer function properly. Factors include:
- The airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality
- The walls between the air sacs are destroyed
- The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed (swollen)
- The airways make more mucus than usual, which causes clogging
These changes in the lungs are due to 2 main conditions—chronic bronchitis and emphysema. When you have COPD you have 1 or both of these conditions:
Chronic bronchitis consists of irritated and inflamed airways that result in excess mucus production and a recurring cough. “Chronic” means this mucus-producing cough occurs most days of the month, 3 months out of a year, for 2 consecutive years without an underlying illness, such as a cold. Chronic bronchitis is often mislabeled as a “smoker’s cough”.
Emphysema is damage to the small air sacs in the lungs, which makes it difficult for oxygen to get into the blood and carbon dioxide to get out of the blood. This leads to shortness of breath.
Although there is no cure for COPD, lifestyle changes and medications can help make a significant difference in your breathing.* Talk to your doctor about treatment options for COPD.
*Your results may vary.
COPD is often a result of long-term exposure to lung irritants.
The following are known to cause COPD:
Smoking (cigarette, pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke)
COPD most often occurs in people who smoke or used to smoke
Heavy, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke
Exposure to particulates, chemicals, and dust in the environment
Although it is rare, COPD can also be caused by a genetic disorder called
alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is passed down in families
FAST FACT: About 80% – 90% of people with COPD are or have been smokers.
COPD is a progressive disease (which means your symptoms get worse over time) and currently has no cure. This is why it is important to treat COPD. There are steps you can take to manage your symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. If you are taking medication to treat your COPD, it is very important to take the medicine exactly as your doctor has prescribed.
There are many treatments available for COPD. Your doctor will decide what the best treatment option is for you based on the severity of your symptoms.
There are 2 types of medicines used to treat COPD:
Medications that help to reduce inflammation in the lungs
Medications that help to relax the muscles around your airways
Depending on the severity of your COPD, your doctor may prescribe short-acting bronchodilators (taken as needed for rapid, short-term relief of sudden symptoms) or long-acting bronchodilators (taken regularly to control chronic symptoms)
ICSs (inhaled corticosteroids) – ICSs are anti-inflammatory medications that may help to control and reduce COPD symptoms. These medications are used to treat the lining of the airways in your lungs by reducing inflammation.
SABAs (short-acting beta agonists)/Rescue inhalers – SABAs are short-acting bronchodilators or rescue medicines that help relieve sudden COPD symptoms.
LABAs (long-acting beta2-adrenergic agonists) – LABAs are long-acting bronchodilators that helps to relax the smooth muscles around the airways, helping you to breathe in and out without as much effort. Medicines that contain LABAs have been reported to increase the risk of asthma-related death.
LAMA (long-acting muscarinic antagonist) – LAMAs are also long-acting bronchodilators that lead to muscle relaxation.
In addition, lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, vaccines, antibiotics and a variety of non-medicinal COPD treatments can be used to ease COPD symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Many times a Rehabilitative stay at a skilled nursing community can make great strides in getting you back home feeling better than ever!
Smoking cessation is the most effective way to stop or slow the progress of COPD. If you cannot quit on your own, ask your doctor to recommend a program that can help you or, alternatively, join a cessation group in your area
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a structured program that can reduce symptoms of COPD. Depending on your needs, a pulmonary rehabilitation program might include exercise training, nutrition counseling, and education on special breathing techniques. Your doctor will know if a program like this is right for you
Regular exercise can increase your energy levels, improve your circulation, reduce symptoms, and increase your endurance. Talk to your doctor about what kinds of activities are best for you
Oxygen therapy is another COPD treatment option for people whose COPD is very severe. It may improve exercise endurance
FAST FACT: 48 hours after quitting smoking, your nerve endings start to regrow, and your senses of smell and taste are enhanced.
People lead long and active lives with COPD, take steps to care of yourself early and see the difference! Call your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms for early detection!