Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Definition

COPD is a chronic condition of the lungs. Several types of COPD exist. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common types. In both conditions the lungs can be severely affected. COPD can lead to difficulty getting enough oxygen into the blood stream and exhaling enough carbon dioxide. COPD affects the small airways of the lungs called bronchial tubes. In this condition the bronchial tubes are narrowed and the patient has trouble getting air in and out of the lungs. Patients with COPD are at an increased risk of lung infections.

Causes

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of COPD.

Treatment

COPD can be treated but not cured. The primary treatment involves medications that help relax airways. These medications are often given by the inhaled route. Steroid medications may be given both by the inhaled and oral route to decrease inflammation in the airways. Antibiotics are given in the presence of lung infection. Some patients require oxygen. When breathing gets very difficult many of these patients require admission to the ICU and may require a breathing tube and breathing machine. Discontinuation of tobacco use is fundamental to the successful management of COPD.

Comments

Many patients with COPD can live a reasonably normal life. As the disease worsens however, endurance becomes limited and patients fatigue easily. COPD is potentially dangerous. Patients with COPD should be under the care of a doctor and should seek medical attention at the first signs of worsening lung function. An increase in the production of sputum or a change in the color of sputum (yellow or green) should be brought to the doctor's attention.

Related Links

National Library of Medicine
The National Library of Medicine presents information and pictures about COPD.