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HomeBlogCOPD – What Is It?

COPD – What Is It?

By: Medix Team
COPD – What Is It?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive chronic inflammatory lung disorder that affects the bronchial tubes causing restricted airflow into the lungs. It is a group term that includes several conditions: Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and Chronic Obstructive Asthma. The World Health Organization estimates that 65 million people suffer from moderate to severe COPD globally and predicts it to be the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.


Understanding COPD:


Causes –  The main cause of COPD in developed countries is tobacco smoking. For many chronic smokers the risk of developing reduced lung function and lung conditions is high, even more so if the smoker happens to be Asthmatic. In developing countries, long-term exposure to harsh chemicals, pollution and fumes is the most common cause of COPD along with tobacco smoking and poorly ventilated homes that use fuel for heating and cooking. Aside from environmental factors and smoking, another cause for COPD incidents is a genetic disorder known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (up to 5% of cases).


Symptoms – COPD can often be mistaken for a simple cold at first, accompanied by shortness of breath, sporadic coughing and an increased production of sputum. With the progression of COPD, signs intensify as the lungs become more damaged. Wheezing, a tightness in the chest and shortness of breath are highly noticeable, along with feelings of lethargy. Weight loss and reoccurring respiratory infections are also common. The later stages of COPD can present with swelling of the lower extremities, such as legs, feet and ankles and a distinct blueness evident in the lips and fingernail beds. 


Diagnosis – Spirometry is the most common diagnostic test, used to measure lung function by blowing into tube connected to a spirometer. The machine then measures the amount of air the lungs are able to inhale and hold as well as the rate at which the lungs can expel the air. This type of testing can detect COPD even before symptoms appear, track progression of the disease and monitor efficacy of treatment. Other diagnostic tests include chest x-rays or a CT scan in order to obtain a detailed image of the lungs, blood vessels and heart or an arterial blood gas analysis which measures how well the lungs deliver oxygen into the blood and expel carbon dioxide from it.


There are various treatment approaches available to reduce COPD symptoms and avoid further complications, depending on the risk for exacerbation; short and long acting bronchodilators are commonly used, while Roflumilast received FDA approval several years ago. Many medications are available to alleviate the symptoms. For some patients, surgical approaches such as lung volume reduction, may also be beneficial. Despite the symptomatic treatment options, preventative measures and early detection are still essential in managing COPD incidents effectively.


If you believe that you may be suffering from COPD, speak to your healthcare professional for more information regarding diagnostic tests and treatment strategies best suited to help you.

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