A Brief Explanation: What is COPD?

A Brief Explanation: What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of progressive lung diseases—including bronchitis and emphysema—that obstruct airflow. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Most often, the disease is caused by smoking and followed by industrial pollutants, air pollution, recurrent respiratory infections and genetics. An estimated 12.7 million adults have COPD, yet there may be as many as 12 million other adults that are undiagnosed but show symptoms of impaired lung function. A reason that the disease is so pervasive—but still can go undiagnosed—is how innocuous the symptoms can seem. These symptoms generally include:

  • Shortness of breath or tiring easily
  • A cough that could produce mucus, phlegm or spots of blood
  • Fatigue and tightness in the chest

If you have experienced any common COPD symptoms and are concerned that you may have the disease, see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will ask you a few questions and then determine whether you need a COPD test. Tests include spirometry (blowing air into a mouthpiece to see how well your lungs work), an arterial blood gas test (which measures the oxygen level in your blood) or a chest x-ray. Together, you can then discuss your treatment options.

The most common treatment options include the following:

  • Lifestyle changes: This includes quitting smoking, eating a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • Medications: There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat COPD.
  • Therapy: In general, a person diagnosed with COPD could participate in oxygen therapy or pulmonary rehabilitation in order to ease the disease’s effects.
  • Surgery: Depending on how advanced the disease is, surgery on the lungs may be required.

While there is no cure for COPD, getting effective treatment can mitigate the disease’s most harmful effects.

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