COPD

Definition

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow as you exhale and make it increasingly difficult for you to breathe.

Emphysema and chronic asthmatic bronchitis are the two main conditions that make up COPD. In all cases, damage to your airways eventually interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs.

COPD is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide. Most COPD is caused by long-term smoking and can be prevented by not smoking or quitting soon after you start. This damage to your lungs can’t be reversed, so treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and minimizing further damage.

Symptoms

In general, symptoms of COPD don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time.People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations when their symptoms suddenly get much worse.Signs and symptoms of COPD can vary, depending on which lung disease is most prominent. Most people have more than one of these signs and symptoms at the same time.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Chronic cough

Causes

COPD primarily refers to obstruction in the lungs caused by chronic asthmatic bronchitis and emphysema. Many people with COPD have both.

  • Chronic asthmatic bronchitis: Chronic asthmatic bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways that lead into your lungs. This may cause you to cough and wheeze. Chronic asthmatic bronchitis also increases mucus production, which can further block the narrowed tubes.
  • Emphysema: Emphysema damages the tiny air sacs in your lungs (alveoli) in two main ways. Alveoli are clustered like grapes and emphysema gradually destroys the inner walls of these clusters, reducing the amount of surface area available to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. In addition, emphysema also makes the alveoli walls weaker and less elastic, so they collapse with exhalation — trapping air in the alveoli. Shortness of breath occurs because the chest wall muscles have to work harder to expel the air.

Imaging Tests

  • X-rays: In a few people, a chest X-ray can show emphysema — one of the main causes of COPD. More importantly, an X-ray can help rule out other lung problems, such as lung cancer, or heart failure.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan): CT scans combine X-ray images taken from many different angles to create detailed, cross-sectional images of internal organs. A CT scan of your lungs can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD.