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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD; Chronic obstructive airways disease; Chronic obstructive lung disease; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Bronchitis - chronic

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common lung disease. Having COPD makes it hard to breathe.

There are two main forms of COPD:

Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.

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Spirometry
Emphysema
Bronchitis
Quitting smoking
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)
Respiratory system

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Causes

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop COPD. But some people smoke for years and never get COPD.

In rare cases, nonsmokers who lack a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin can develop emphysema.

Other risk factors for COPD are:

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

Because the symptoms develop slowly, some people may not know that they have COPD.

Exams and Tests

The best test for COPD is a lung function test called spirometry. This involves blowing out as hard as possible into a small machine that tests lung capacity. The results can be checked right away.

Using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs can also be helpful. But sometimes, the lungs sound normal, even when a person has COPD.

Imaging tests of the lungs, such as x-rays and CT scans may be ordered. With an x-ray, the lungs may look normal, even when a person has COPD. A CT scan will usually show signs of COPD.

Sometimes, a blood test called arterial blood gas may be done to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Treatment

There is no cure for COPD. But there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse.

If you smoke, now is the time to quit. This is the best way to slow lung damage.

Medicines used to treat COPD include:

In severe cases or during flare-ups, you may need to receive:

Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics during symptom flare-ups, because an infection can make COPD worse.

You may need oxygen therapy at home if you have a low level of oxygen in your blood.

Pulmonary rehabilitation does not cure COPD. But it can teach you more about the disease, train you to breathe in a different way so you can stay active and feel better, and keeps you functioning at the highest level possible.

LIVING WITH COPD

You can do things every day to keep COPD from getting worse, protect your lungs, and stay healthy.

Walk to build up strength:

Things you can do to make it easier for yourself around the home include:

Eat healthy foods, including fish, poultry, and lean meat, as well as fruits and vegetables. If it is hard to keep your weight up, talk to a provider or dietitian about eating foods with more calories.

Surgery may be used to treat COPD. Only a few people benefit from these surgical treatments:

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

COPD is a long-term (chronic) illness. The disease will get worse more quickly if you do not stop smoking.

If you have severe COPD, you will be short of breath with most activities. You may be admitted to the hospital more often.

Talk with your provider about breathing machines and end-of-life care as the disease progresses.

Possible Complications

With COPD, you may have other health problems such as:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have a rapid increase in shortness of breath.

Prevention

Not smoking prevents most COPD. Ask your provider about quit-smoking programs. Medicines are also available to help you stop smoking.

Related Information

Cor pulmonale
Dilated cardiomyopathy
Heart failure - overview
Lung disease
COPD - what to ask your doctor
Lung surgery - discharge
Using oxygen at home - what to ask your doctor
How to use a nebulizer
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - adults - discharge
COPD - control drugs
COPD - quick-relief drugs
How to use an inhaler - no spacer
How to use an inhaler - with spacer
How to use your peak flow meter
Make peak flow a habit
Using oxygen at home
Oxygen safety
How to breathe when you are short of breath
Traveling with breathing problems
Aspirin and heart disease
Being active after your heart attack
Antiplatelet drugs - P2Y12 inhibitors

References

Celli BR, Zuwallack RL. Pulmonary rehabilitation. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 105.

Criner GJ, Bourbeau J, Diekemper RL, et al. Prevention of acute exacerbations of COPD: American College of Chest Physicians and Canadian Thoracic Society guideline. Chest. 2015;147(4):894-942. PMID: 25321320 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25321320.

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 2018 report. goldcopd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/GOLD-2018-v6.0-FINAL-revised-20-Nov_WMS.pdf. Accessed June 25, 2018.

Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: clinical diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 44.

National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. COPD National Action Plan. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2017. NIH publication 17-HL-8031. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/COPD-national-action-plan.

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Review Date: 5/28/2018  

Reviewed By: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, VA New Jersey Health Care System, Clinical Assistant Professor, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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