What is COPD?
COPD is the abbreviation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. There are two types of COPD – emphysema, a long-term cough with mucus, and chronic bronchitis, where the lungs are destroyed over time. Many people suffering from COPD have both types. Patients with COPD experience wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing that produces large amounts of mucus. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of COPD. Other causes include long-term exposure to lung irritants such as air pollution, chemical fumes or dust.
Your lungs work by taking in air through your nose or mouth and drawing it through your windpipe into airways call bronchial tubes. These bronchial tubes branch out into smaller tubes called bronchioles that have tiny air sacs on their ends, called alveoli. The alveoli walls house small blood vessels called capillaries. As you breathe in and out, the air sacs fill up and deflate like balloons as oxygen passes through to be absorbed into the blood in the capillaries.
COPD keeps oxygen from being absorbed due to a number of conditions. Airways and alveoli can lose their elasticity and can no longer expand and deflate normally. The walls between the alveoli may break down or become thick or inflamed, or airways may be clogged with an overproduction of mucus.
COPD causes disability, and is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. It develops slowly and is usually diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults. There is no cure for COPD. If you smoke, you must stop. It is the only way to avoid further lung damage. Other treatments, such as oxygen therapy, can also slow the progression of the disease so you can stay active longer.