Respiratory Medicine

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Introduction to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for the collection of a number of respiratory diseases which causes general obstruction and difficulty breathing.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for the collection of a number of respiratory diseases which causes general obstruction and difficulty breathing. COPD consists of chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. There are varying amounts of obstruction caused by the airways becoming narrow and this depends on the severity of the disease.

What causes COPD?

The biggest cause of COPD is smoking (90%). It is very rare before 35 and most people who develop COPD are over the age of 50. There are rarer causes such as genetic conditions which may lead to an earlier development of COPD but this is uncommon. The severity and onset of COPD varies from patient to patient and 75% of smokers do not develop COPD – the reason for this is unknown although it is though that certain genetic profiles predispose certain people. Passive smoking, exposure to fumes, dust and air pollution can also cause COPD. Stopping smoking at any times increases the outcome for smokers and should always be encouraged.

COPD

What are the symptoms of COPD?

COPD is characterised by shortness of breath which is worse when active, persistent productive cough, wheeze and an increased likelihood of respiratory infection. These symptoms are ‘chronic’, meaning that they have been present for several continuous months. The shortness of breath which is characteristic of COPD can be very debilitating and can reduce mobility. COPD can get progressively worse over time and symptoms can become more severe, especially if the patient experiences recurrent infections and/or continues to smoke. The disease process can cause reduction in weight, a feeling of tiredness and fatigue and ankle oedema (swelling).

How is COPD treated?

There is currently no cure for COPD but treatments are available to manage symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease. One of the most important measures to take is to stop smoking. Your doctor can offer advice and refer you to a smoking cessation service. There are various inhalers available which may offer relief; these include beta agonist inhalers, antimuscarinic inhalers and steroid inhalers. Certain tablets can help during flare-ups, to reduce the thickness of the phlegm and to treat any respiratory infections that are present. Some patients require oxygen therapy to help them breathe at home or if they are brought into hospital if the COPD is severe or exacerbated. Rehabilitation programmes are available which can increase mobility and exercise tolerance and offer ways to manage the symptoms.

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