• Chronic: long term (or frequently recurring)
  • Obstructive: blockage to air flow
  • Pulmonary: refers to the lungs
  • Disease: illness, condition

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also known as chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD), is an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases that are characterized by progressive limitations of the airflow into and out of the lungs, and increased shortness of breath as the disease progresses. COPD, an insidious disease which is often first diagnosed after some of the lung capacity is already lost, is usually not fully reversible. It is possible to have early stages of COPD without knowing it.

The predominant diseases that fall under this “umbrella term” are:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic Bronchitis
    Note: These two diseases are no longer used as a direct part of the definition of COPD.
  • Other lesser known and less common diseases occasionally included are:
    – Bronchiectasis
    – Refractory Asthma

COPD Symptoms?

  • Shortness of breath
    – breathlessness during normal activities
    – decreased exercise tolerance
  • Wheezing
    – changes in your breathing
  • Chronic Cough
    – excessive phlegm (mucus) production
    – morning “smokers cough”
  • Colds that last weeks instead of days
  • Recurring respiratory infections
    – bouts of bronchitis every winter
  • Unable to keep up activities with people of your same age group

Note: Many people who are at risk for COPD, easily mistake their symptoms with excuses such as:
I’m just out of shape. I keep catching these colds from the kids (or others). I must have an allergy. When I quit smoking, I’ll be fine.

COPD Causes?

Although smoking is the main cause of COPD, other factors such as environmental and industrial pollutants can also result in COPD in someone who has never smoked.

Smoking – Considered the most common cause of COPD, it occurs most often in people over 40 with a past or present history of smoking. Smoking accounts for over 80% of all those diagnosed with COPD, and 90% of COPD related deaths.

Environmental – Less than 20% of people diagnosed with COPD have never smoked. COPD can also occur in people who have had long-term exposure to lung irritants. Exposure to environmental and/or occupational elements such as certain chemicals, dust, and fumes, as well as heavy or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke or other air pollutants may also contribute to COPD.

– Occupational dusts and chemicals (vapors, irritants, fumes). Indoor air pollutions from some fuels used for cooking and heating, especially in poorly vented dwellings.

– Outdoor air pollution adds to the irritation of the lungs caused by the inhaled particles, although to what degree is unknown.

Genetic – In some people, COPD is caused by a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin, or AAT deficiency. While very few people know they have AAT deficiency, it is estimated that close to 100,000 Americans have it. People with AAT deficiency can get COPD even if they have never smoked nor had long-term exposure to harmful pollutants.

Allergies and Asthma – Allergens and asthma can cause changes in the lungs and airways that may lead to the development of COPD.

Nutrition – Poor nutrition can increase the risk for dysfunction within the lungs. Nutrients should come from natural sources rather than supplements.

Periodontal Disease – Recent studies have shown that patients with periodontal disease are one and a half times more likely to develop COPD than those without periodontal disease. It is believed that the bacteria that causes periodontal disease can travel from the mouth into the lungs, causing inflammation and infection.

Low Birth Weight – Poor nutrition during fetal development resulting in smaller dysfunctional lungs has been linked to the development of COPD in later years.

Respiratory infections in early childhood also are associated with reduced lung function and increased respiratory problems in later years. These infections can then lead to COPD.

How is COPD Diagnosed?

The diagnosis for COPD is easily made by measuring a person’s pulmonary function .The basic “standard” for evaluating the severity of COPD is spirometry, also known as the Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). An early diagnosis is important, as once the lung capacity is lost, it cannot be regained. How is COPD Diagnosed?

Spirometry measures the amount of air a person’s lungs can move in and out and at what rate. Done in a doctors office or in a hospital, it is not invasive nor painful. It consists of blowing into a mouthpiece that is attached to a recording device called a spirometer.