Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make breathing difficult. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that make up COPD. Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. Emphysema occurs when the air sacs at the end of the smallest air passages in the lungs are gradually destroyed. Damage to your lungs from COPD can't be reversed, but treatment can help control symptoms and minimize further damage. Symptoms of COPD often don't appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time. For chronic bronchitis, the main symptom is a cough that you have at least three months a year for two consecutive years. Other signs and symptoms of COPD include: shortness of breath, especially during physical activities, wheezing, chest tightness, clearing your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungs, chronic cough that produces sputum that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish, blueness of the lips or fingernail beds, respiratory infections, lack of energy, unintended weight loss in the late stages. People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse and persist for days or longer. The main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. However, in the developing world, COPD often occurs in women exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes. Only about 20 percent of chronic smokers develop COPD. Some smokers develop less common lung conditions. They may be misdiagnosed as having COPD until a more thorough evaluation is performed. Air travels down your windpipe and into your lungs through two large tubes. Inside your lungs, these tubes divide many times into many smaller tubes that end in clusters of tiny air sacs. The air sacs have very thin walls full of tiny blood vessels. The oxygen in the air you inhale passes into these blood vessels and enters your bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide is exhaled. Your lungs rely on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to force air out of your body. COPD causes them to lose their elasticity and partially collapse, which leaves some air trapped in your lungs when you exhale. Emphysema causes destruction of the fragile walls and elastic fibers of the alveoli. The small airways collapse when you exhale, impairing airflow out of your lungs. Chronic bronchitis causes your bronchial tubes become inflamed and narrowed and your lungs produce more mucus, which can further block the narrowed tubes. You develop a chronic cough trying to clear your airways. Cigarette smoke and other irritants for the most part cause this type of lung damage that leads to COPD is caused by long-term cigarette smoking. But there are likely other factors at play in the development of COPD, such as a genetic susceptibility to the disease, because only about 20 percent of smokers develop COPD. Other irritants can cause COPD, including cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, air pollution and workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes. In about 1 percent of people with COPD, the disease results from a genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. Alpha-1-antitrypsin is made in the liver and secreted into the bloodstream to help protect the lungs. Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can affect the liver as well as the lungs. Complications of COPD include: Respiratory infections. People with COPD are more susceptible to colds, the flu and pneumonia. Any respiratory infection can make it much more difficult to breathe and produce further damage to the lung tissue. An annual flu vaccination and regular vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia help prevent some infections. High blood pressure, COPD may cause high blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood to your lungs. Heart problems for reasons that aren't fully understood, COPD increases your risk of heart disease, including heart attack. Lung cancer, smokers with chronic bronchitis has greater risk of developing lung cancer than do smokers who don't have chronic bronchitis. Depression, difficulty breathing can keep you from doing activities that you enjoy. And dealing with serious illness can contribute to development of depression. Talk to your doctor if you feel sad or helpless or think that you may be experiencing depression. COPD is commonly misdiagnosed — former smokers are often told they have COPD when in reality they have another less common lung condition. Likewise, many persons who truly do have COPD aren't diagnosed until the disease is far advanced and interventions are less effective.
If you have symptoms of COPD and a history of exposure to lung irritants these are some tests your health care provider may order; Pulmonary function tests, spirometry is the most common lung function test. During this test, you'll be asked to blow into a large tube connected to a spirometer. This machine measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs. Spirometry can detect COPD even before you have symptoms of the disease. It can also be used to track the progression of disease and to monitor how well treatment is working. Chest X-ray, a chest X-ray can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. An X-ray can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure. CT scan, a CT scan of your lungs can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD. CT scans can also be used to screen for lung cancer, which is more common among people with COPD than it is among those who smoked but didn't develop COPD. Arterial blood gas analysis, this blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide. Elements of health care structure that can also be monitored to evaluate the quality of care include drug availability, cost and quality, existence of local guidelines and policies, and level of training of health professionals. Primary prevention of CRDs requires the reduction or avoidance of personal exposure to common risk factors. Avoidance of direct and indirect exposure to tobacco smoke is of primary importance not only for healthier lungs, but as a preventative measure. According to WHO estimates, 65 million people have moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is the third leading cause of death in America, claiming the lives of 134,676 Americans in 2010. In 2011, 12.7 million U.S. adults were estimated to have COPD. In 2011, an estimated 10.1 million Americans reported a physician diagnosis of chronic bronchitis. Of the estimated 4.7 million Americans ever diagnosed with emphysema, 92 percent are 45 or older. An estimated 715,000 hospital discharges were reported in 2010; a discharge rate of 23.2 per 100,000 populations. COPD is an important cause of hospitalization in our aged population. Approximately 65% of discharges were in the 65 years and older population in 2010. A Lung Association survey revealed that half of all COPD patients (51%) say their condition limits their ability to work. It also limits them in normal physical exertion (70%), household chores (56%), social activities (53%), sleeping (50%) and family activities (46%). In 2010, the cost to the nation for COPD was projected to be approximately $49.9 billion, including $29.5 billion in direct health care expenditures, $8.0 billion in indirect morbidity costs and $12.4 billion in indirect mortality costs.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/resources/facts-figures/COPD-Fact-Sheet.html COPD. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/ COPD.com Learning More Together. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.copd.com/about-copd/