COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

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What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a slowly progressive obstruction of airflow into or out of the lungs. The incidence of COPD has almost doubled since 1982. The disease occurs slightly more often in men than in women. The symptoms come on slowly and many people are consequently diagnosed after age 40-50, although some are diagnosed at a younger age.

What are the risk factors for COPD?

People who smoke tobacco are at the highest risk for developing COPD. Other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke from tobacco, and exposure to high levels of air pollution, especially air pollution associated with wood or coal. In addition, individuals with airway hyper-responsiveness such as those with chronic asthma are at increased risk.

Finally, there is a genetic factor called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that places a small percentage (less than 1%) of people at higher risk for COPD because a protective factor (alpha-1 antitrypsin protein) for lung tissue elasticity is decreased or absent.

What other diseases or conditions contribute to COPD?

In general, three other non-genetic problems related to the lung tissue play a role in COPD. Two of the conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, are thought by many to be variations of COPD and considered part of the progression of COPD.

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a chronic cough that produces sputum for three or more months during two consecutive years. Emphysema is an abnormal and permanent enlargement of the air spaces (alveoli) located at the end of the terminal bronchioles in the lungs.

Infectious diseases of the lung may damage areas of the lung tissue and contribute to COPD.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/4/2014

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Symptoms of COPD include chronic cough, shortness of breath, and recurrent lung infections

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Symptoms and Signs

COPD is characterized by a longstanding (chronic) obstruction to air flow out of the lungs. It can take different forms and have different symptoms. Symptoms of COPD can also vary in severity.

COPD Symptoms include:

  • a chronic cough,
  • shortness of breath,
  • and frequent respiratory infections

Other COPD possible symptoms can include

  • finger clubbing,
  • wheezing, exercise intolerance,
  • chest tightness,
  • cough productive of sputum,
  • and coughing up blood.