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

Quick GuideCOPD Lung Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

COPD Lung Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

What is the treatment for COPD?

There are many treatments for COPD. The first and best is to stop smoking immediately.

Medical treatments of COPD include beta-2 agonists and anticholinergic agents (bronchodilators), steroids, mucolytic agents, oxygen therapy, and surgical procedures such as bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery, and lung transplantation.

The treatments are often based on the stage of COPD, for example:

  • Stage I - short-acting bronchodilator as needed
  • Stage II - short-acting bronchodilator as needed and long-acting bronchodilators plus cardiopulmonary rehabilitation
  • Stage III short-acting bronchodilator as needed long-acting bronchodilators cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and inhaled glucocorticoids for repeated exacerbations
  • Stage IV – as needed long-acting bronchodilators, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, inhaled glucocorticoids, long-term oxygen therapy, possible lung volume reduction surgery and possible lung transplantation (stage IV has been termed "end-stage" COPD)

The three major goals of the comprehensive treatment of COPD are as follows:

  1. Lessen airflow limitation
  2. Prevent and treat secondary medical complications (for example, hypoxemia, infection)
  3. Decrease respiratory symptoms and improve quality of life

Acute exacerbation of COPD is one of the major reasons for hospital admission in the United States.

The patient may need to be hospitalized if they develop severe respiratory dysfunction, if the disease progresses, or if they have other serious respiratory diseases (for example, pneumonia, acute bronchitis). The purpose of hospitalization is to treat symptoms and to prevent further deterioration.

The patient may be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) if they require invasive or noninvasive mechanical ventilation or if they have the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Respiratory muscle fatigue
  • Worsening hypoxemia (not enough oxygen in the blood)
  • Respiratory acidosis (retention of carbon dioxide in the blood)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/4/2015

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