Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is by definition an umbrella terms used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness. Here we discuss what COPD is, how it can be treated, and what are the risks.
Many people mistake their increased breathlessness and coughing as a nominal part of aging. In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath. You begin to see the symptoms in the more developed stages of the disease.
Damage to the lung tissue over time causes physical changes in the tissues of the lungs and clogging of the airways with thick mucus. The tissue damage in the lungs leads to poor compliance (the elasticity, or ability of the lung tissue to expand).
The decrease in elasticity of the lungs means that oxygen in the air cannot get by obstructions to reach air spaces where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs in the lung. Consequently, the person exhibits a progressive difficulty, first coughing to remove obstructions like mucus, and then in breathing, especially with exertion.
People with COPD can often mistake their symptoms for other respiratory problems, such as exercise-induced asthma or a bad cold. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible:
Wheezing; tightness in the chest; fatigue, multiple respiratory infections; shortness of breather (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity; having to clear your throat first thing in the morning, due to excess mucus in your lungs; a chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow, or greenish; blueness of the lips of fingernail beds (cyanosis); frequent respiratory infections; unintended weight loss (in later stages); and swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs.
If left untreated, COPD can lead to hospitalization and even death. Be proactive if you are showing signs of the disease and be evaluated by your physician promptly.
What causes COPD? The main cause of COPD in developed countries is tobacco smoking.