COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

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

COPD 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.

Quick GuideCOPD Lung Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

COPD Lung Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

COPD facts

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a slowly progressive obstruction of airflow into or out of the lungs.
  • The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoking and/or exposure to tobacco smoke; other causes include air pollution, infectious diseases and genetic problems.
  • The risk of COPD is increased by smoking tobacco, secondhand smoke, air pollution, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and a few other problems.
  • Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and infectious diseases can contribute to the development of COPD.
  • Symptoms of COPD include
  • Progressive or more serious symptoms may include
    • respiratory distress,
    • tachypnea,
    • cyanosis,
    • use of accessory respiratory muscles,
    • peripheral edema,
    • hyperinflation,
    • chronic wheezing,
    • abnormal lung sounds,
    • prolonged expiration,
    • elevated jugular venous pulse, and
    • cyanosis.
  • The stages of COPD range from stage I to stage IV. As the stage number increases the disease progressively becomes worse; stage IV is also known as "end stage" COPD.
  • Depending upon the stage of COPD, other doctors besides the patient's primary care physician may be involved and may include pulmonologists, lung surgeons, and/or other professionals such as pulmonary rehabilitation specialists and other team members.
  • Individuals should contact their doctors about COPD if they experience any of the signs or symptoms of COPD.
  • COPD is diagnosed by patient's breathing history and exposure to cigarette smoking or other agents. A pulmonologist usually determines the stage of COPD by their FEV1 level.
  • The treatment for COPD includes avoidance of any of the likely causes such as cigarette smoke or toxic fumes and by medications or, in a small number of patients, lung surgery or lung transplant.
  • Individuals with COPD should contact their health-care professional before treating themselves with home remedies (for example, vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids).
  • Medical treatments for COPD include medications to stop smoking, various bronchodilators, anticholinergics, steroids, and enzyme inhibitors.
  • Other therapies for COPD may include antibiotics, mucolytic agents, oxygen, endurance exercises, and yoga.
  • Surgery for COPD may include bullectomy, lung volume reduction or lung transplant.
  • Prevention or risk lowering for COPD includes avoidance of causes (smoking, for example) or vaccines that protect the lungs from infection (for example, the flu and pneumococcal vaccines).
  • The prognosis and life expectancy for individuals with COPD ranges from good to poor, depending on the person's COPD stage, with a decreasing outlook as the stages progress toward stage IV.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/4/2015

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