Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. COPD is typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases like tobacco smoke. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, cough, and mucus production. Left untreated, progressive COPD can lead to the development of heart disease and lung cancer.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD and often occur simultaneously. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. It’s characterized by daily cough and mucus production. Emphysema is a condition in which the air sacs (alveoli) at the end of the smallest air passages (bronchioles) of the lungs are destroyed.
COPD is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, however, with proper care and monitoring, COPD is treatable. With proper management, most people can reduce their symptoms and risk of associated conditions.
COPD symptoms often don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred over time.
Signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- A chronic cough
- Coughing Mucus
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Swelling in ankles, feet, or legs
Talk to your doctor if your symptoms are not improving with treatment or getting worse, or if you notice symptoms of an infection, such as fever or a change in sputum.
Seek immediate medical care if you can’t catch your breath, if you experience severe blueness of your lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis) or a rapid heartbeat, or if you feel foggy and have trouble concentrating.
There is no cure for COPD, so the goal of treatment is to reduce your symptoms and slow the disease. A primary step for many is to stop smoking. Smoking is a strong contributor to irritation and more severe symptoms. Aside from helping you quit smoking, treatment plans may include:
- Bronchodilators. Medicines you inhale to help open airways.
- Corticosteroids. Medication to reduce airway inflammation.
- Combination inhalers. Inhalers with steroids and bronchodilator.
- Antibiotics. Prescribed to fight bacterial infections.
- Roflumilast. Prevents flare-ups in people whose COPD is linked to chronic bronchitis.
- Flu or pneumonia vaccines. These vaccines lower your risk for respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation. Includes exercise, disease management, and counseling to help you stay healthy and active.
- Oxygen therapy. Helps reduce shortness of breath and helps protect your organs.
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