Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. A major cause of COPD is prolonged exposure to irritating gases, most often from cigarette smoke. COPD is associated with difficulty in breathing, wheezing, cough, and mucus (sputum) production.
The two most common conditions that contribute to COPD are:
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
Emphysema: This is a lung disease in which the alveoli at the end of the smallest air passages of the lungs are damaged as a result of harmful exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritating gases and particulate matter.
READ ALSO: Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment
Chronic bronchitis: This is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. It’s characterized by daily cough and mucus (sputum) production.

Symptoms of COPD

In most cases, symptoms of COPD don’t appear until substantial lung damage has occurred. If the person with COPD continues with tobacco smoking exposure, the function of the lung usually deteriorate over time. For chronic bronchitis, the main symptom is a daily cough and mucus (sputum) production at least three months a year for two consecutive years.
Other signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lack of energy
  • Wheezing sound
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • 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 or fingernail beds (cyanosis)
  • Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

Causes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

The main cause of COPD include;
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Exposure to fumes from burning fuel for cooking in poorly ventilated homes.
It isn’t all chronic smokers that develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but only about 20 to 30 percent. Although many smokers with long smoking histories may develop reduced lung function. Some smokers develop less common lung conditions.

How COPD Affects Your Lungs

Normally, air travels down your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs through two large tubes (bronchi). These tubes divide many times inside your lungs into many smaller tubes (bronchioles) that end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli).
The air sacs have very thin walls full of tiny blood vessels (capillaries). The oxygen in the air you inhale passes into these blood vessels and enters your bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide is exhaled.
Now your lungs rely on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to force air out of your body. When COPD develops, it causes them to lose their elasticity and overexpand, thereby leaving some air trapped in your lungs when you breathe out.

Causes of Airway Obstruction

Causes of airway obstruction include:
Cigarette smoke and other irritants. The lung damage that leads to COPD is mostly caused by prolonged smoking of cigarette. However, other factors like genetic proneness to disease play a role in the development of COPD.
Other irritants like pipe smoke, air pollution, exposure to dust or fumes from workplace, cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, or air pollution can cause COPD.
Emphysema. This causes damage of the fragile walls and elastic fibers of the alveoli. Small airways collapse when you exhale, ruining airflow out of your lungs.
Chronic bronchitis. This causes your bronchial tubes to become inflamed and narrowed, thereby causing your lungs to produce more mucus, which can further block the narrowed tubes.
Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. This disease is a genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) is made in the liver and secreted into the bloodstream to help protect the lungs. Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can affect the liver as well as the lungs.
COPD Risk factors
Risk factors for COPD include:
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke. Prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke increases your risk of developing COPD. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. People exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke may also be affected.
  • COPD develops slowly over years
  • People with asthma who smoke. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory airway disease. People with asthma who smoke have high risk of developing COPD
  • Exposure to fumes from burning fuel. In the developing world, people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes are at higher risk of developing COPD.
  • The uncommon genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD.
  • Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.

Complications of COPD

COPD can cause many complications, including:
  • Respiratory infections. People with COPD are more likely to develop pneumonia and flu. Any respiratory infection can make it much more difficult to breathe and could cause further destroy lung tissue.
  • Heart problems. COPD can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack.
  • High blood pressure in lung arteries. COPD may cause high blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood to your lungs.
  • Difficulty breathing can leave you feeling depressed.
  • Lung cancer. People with COPD have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has a clear cause and a clear path of prevention. The majority of cases are directly related to cigarette smoking, and the best way to prevent COPD is to never smoke or to quit smoking.
For job-related exposure to chemical fumes and dust, talk to your supervisor about the best ways to protect yourself.

Diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Your doctor will review your signs and symptoms, discuss your family and medical history, and discuss any exposure you’ve had to lung irritants. Your doctor may order several tests to diagnose your condition.
Tests may include:
  • Lung (pulmonary) function tests.This test measures the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and if your lungs are delivering enough oxygen to your blood.
The most common lung function test is spirometry, which involves you blowing air into a large tube connected to a small machine called a spirometer. This machine measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs.
Spirometry can detect COPD even before you have symptoms of the disease. It can also be used to track the progression of disease and to monitor how well treatment is working.
  • Chest X-ray.This can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. An X-ray can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure.
  • CT scan.A CT scan of your lungs can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD.
  • Arterial blood gas analysis.This blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide.

Treatment For COPD

Treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease aims at controlling symptoms, reducing your risk of complications, and improving your ability to lead an active life.
Quit Smoking
Quitting all forms of smoking, be it tobacco or e-cigarette, is vital in treating COPD. However, it isn’t easy to quit smoking. Discuss with your doctor about nicotine replacement products, medications, and therapies that might help you quit.
Doctors use several kinds of medications to treat the symptoms and complications of COPD. You may take some medications on a regular basis and others as needed. Medications may include bronchodilators, oral steroids, inhaled steroids, combination inhalers, Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, antibiotics, and theophylline.
Disclaimer: The content provided on is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.



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