Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases that make it difficult to breathe. This disease can cause coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. It can also cause the production of excess mucus, which is a slimy substance.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
The umbrella term COPD includes two main conditions – chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These are progressive diseases, which mean they worsen with time. Most people with COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
In emphysema, there is damage in the walls between some of the air sacs. This damage causes the air sacs to become floppy and lose their shape. Damage can also destroy some of the walls completely to create a few large air sacs instead of many small ones. This can prevent the lungs from exchanging oxygen from the air for carbon dioxide, a toxic byproduct that you usually exhale.
Chronic bronchitis is a condition where the lining of your airway is constantly irritated and inflamed. This persistent irritation and inflammation causes the lining to thicken, which narrows the amount of space air has to flow through your airway. Thick mucus can form in your airway, making it even more difficult to breathe.
In healthy lungs, air flows from the outside environment through the airway and into tiny air sacs in the lungs. The airways and air sacs are stretchy to allow air to flow in and out of them. Whenever you breathe in, the airways and air sacs expand to hold the air, somewhat like a balloon. When you exhale, the air sacs deflate and the air moves out of your lungs.
In COPD, less air flows in and out of your lungs. Several factors cause this poor airflow. The airways and air sacs can lose their elasticity, for example, or the walls of the airway became thick and inflamed. The walls between the air sacs can become damaged, which prevents the air sacs from filling and emptying properly. Excess mucus production can clog airways and interfere with breathing.
Only a doctor can diagnose and treat COPD. A lung doctor diagnoses this condition by listening to your lungs, looking at chest X-ray and CT images, and other tests. A pulmonary function test can evaluate how well your lungs work by measuring the amount of air that enters and leaves your lungs when you breathe.
There is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease but treatment can help you breathe better, stay more active and slow down the progression of the disease. Treatment depends on the underlying cause but often includes the use of medications, including bronchodilators that open airways and inhaled steroids to reduce inflammation. Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation are helpful as well.