Date updated: June 16, 2006
Lila Havens; Robin Parks, MS
Content provided by Healthwise
People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), especially those who have chronic bronchitis, may experience a rapid, sometimes sudden, and prolonged worsening of symptoms (cough, amount of mucus, and/or shortness of breath). This is called a COPD exacerbation. These exacerbations often are life-threatening and can lead to hospitalization. With treatment, many people recover and return to the same level of shortness of breath they had before the exacerbation. COPD exacerbations often occur more frequently, last longer, and are more severe the longer you have COPD. Because a COPD exacerbation can be serious, if you have a sudden worsening in your usual shortness of breath that does not improve after using your medication, have someone take you to the emergency room. Call 911 if necessary. Cause
The two most common causes of a COPD exacerbation are:1
* Infection in the airways of the lungs, such as bronchitis, or in the lungs, such as pneumonia. Infections are the most common cause of COPD exacerbations. Infections usually are caused by a virus but can also be caused by bacteria. * Air pollution.
A COPD exacerbation results in a dramatic increase in mucusproduction in the lungs or narrowing of the airways of the lungs (bronchial tubes). The increased mucus production and airway narrowing reduce airflow in the lungs, which results in worsening symptoms of cough and shortness of breath. The cause of about one-third of COPD exacerbations is unknown.1Other causes may include heart failure, allergic reactions, the accidental inhalation of food or stomach contents into the lungs, and exposure to temperature changes or chemicals. Symptoms
* The symptoms of a COPD exacerbation are your usual symptoms suddenly getting worse. These include: * Increased shortness of breath and wheezing.
* Increased cough with or without sputum (mucus),...