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.

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 (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) definition and facts

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic condition in which there is a slow, progressive obstruction of airflow into or out of the lungs.
  • The primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is cigarette smoking and/or exposure to tobacco smoke; other causes include air pollution, infectious diseases and genetic conditions.
  • The risk factors of COPD is increased by smoking tobacco, secondhand smoke, air pollution, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and a few other conditions.
  • Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and infectious diseases can contribute to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • 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 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 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" chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • 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.
  • The diagnosis of this health condition is by taking the 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 this condition 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 this health condition 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 this health condition may include antibiotics, mucolytic agents, oxygen, endurance exercises, and yoga.
  • Surgery for COPD may include bullectomy, lung volume reduction or lung transplant.
  • Prevention or lowering the risk factors 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.

What is the definition of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a slowly progressive obstruction of airflow into or out of the lungs. The incidence of COPD has almost doubled since 1982. Experts have estimated about 32 million persons in the United States have COPD. The disease occurs slightly more often in men than in women. The symptoms (for example, shortness of breath, coughing) come on slowly and many people are consequently diagnosed after age 40-50, although some are diagnosed at a younger age. COPD patients may exhibit symptoms of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) defines COPD as airflow limitation that is not fully reversible, usually is progressive, and is associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to inhaled noxious particles or gases. This information will focus on COPD and not on other related problems (for example, chronic bronchitis or asthma).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/4/2015

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