Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
(Chronic Bronchitis; Emphysema)
COPD is a disease in your lungs that makes it hard to breathe. It's hard to push air out of your lungs. Difficulty pushing air out is called chronic airflow obstruction.
Smoking cigarettes is the most common cause of COPD
COPD makes you cough and be short of breath
Stopping smoking can help keep your airways open
Your doctor may give you medicines to help avoid or relieve your symptoms
If you have severe COPD, you may need to take other medicines, use oxygen, or undergo pulmonary (lung) rehabilitation
COPD includes 2 lung disorders—chronic obstructive bronchitis and emphysema. Many people have both disorders.
COPD takes years to develop and get worse.
In your 40s or 50s, you may have:
In your 60s, you may have:
More trouble breathing, especially if you smoke
Pneumonia and other lung infections that may require hospital stays
Sometimes swelling of your legs
Sometimes coughing up blood
After you've had COPD for a long time, you may notice:
A flare-up of COPD is a sudden worsening of your symptoms. Flare-ups can happen at any age. They're usually caused by breathing in pollution or pollen in the air. They're also caused by getting a cold, flu, or other sickness that affects your breathing. See your doctor right away if you have these symptoms:
A serious flare-up can lead to a dangerously low level of oxygen in your blood (a condition called acute respiratory failure). Go to an emergency room right away if you have these symptoms:
Doctors will usually suspect COPD based on your symptoms. They'll do a chest x-ray and tests to find out how well your lungs are working (pulmonary function tests). Doctors may check if the level of oxygen in your blood is low using a sensor placed on a fingertip.
If you're young, have never smoked, and have a family history of COPD, doctors may do other tests to see if your symptoms are caused by a different problem:
Doctors can't fix the damage in your lungs and airways.
If you're a smoker, you need to stop smoking to keep COPD from getting worse. Doctors may give you medicines to help you stop, such as nicotine gum or a patch.
Doctors may also give you medicines to increase airflow and make it easier to breathe. Some medicines are used to prevent symptoms. Other medicines are used to relieve symptoms. You take some COPD medicines through an inhaler. This allows you to breathe medicine directly into your lungs.
You may also need oxygen therapy to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood. Oxygen is usually given through prongs worn in your nose.
Doctors may suggest you go to pulmonary rehabilitation to help improve your quality of life.
To treat serious COPD symptoms or flare-ups, you may need to stay in the hospital. If an infection has caused the flare-up, you may need antibiotics.
Stay away from irritants in the air such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and pollen
Talk to your doctor about getting a flu and pneumonia shot (vaccination)
Eat healthy foods every day, especially if you have unexplained weight loss
Drink water instead of soda or coffee—this keeps the sputum in your lungs from getting thick
If your COPD becomes very serious, you'll need help with daily living and medical care. People with advanced COPD have a higher chance of getting sick or dying from heart problems, blocked arteries, or lung problems such as pneumonia or lung cancer. You may need a breathing machine to stay alive.
To prepare yourself, talk with your family members about the type of medical care you want if you're no longer able to make decisions about your own care. Your decisions should be written down in legal documents called advance directives.