Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disease that makes breathing difficult by obstructing airflow from the lungs. As a progressive condition, COPD has symptoms that typically worsen over time if proper treatment is not sought out. COPD affects nearly 16 million Americans, and individuals with this condition are at a higher risk of developing additional diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer.
Causes of COPD
The most common cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is smoking, though additional causes may include:
- Secondhand smoke
- Breathing in dust and fumes at work
- Air pollution
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (a genetic disorder)
Conditions like emphysema (a condition that destroys the alveoli of the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes) can also contribute to COPD.
Signs & Symptoms of COPD
While symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder won’t appear until the condition has caused significant damage to the lungs, the signs are fairly easy to recognize. These include:
- A chronic cough that produces mucus, often persisting a long time
- Shortness of breath, especially during mild exercise or in regular daily activities
- Difficulty taking deep breaths
- Chest tightness
- Frequent respiratory infections
Diagnosing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
To diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a doctor will ask questions about a patient’s medical history, perform a physical exam and likely order some additional tests.
Possible tests can include:
- Pulse oximetry to measure blood oxygen levels
- Exercise testing
- Imaging scans such as a chest X-ray or CT scan
- Arterial blood gases (ABGs)
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to rule out heart disease as a cause of symptoms
How is COPD Treated?
Treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease depends on the stage of the condition, which exists in four stages ranging from mild to severe. Although there is no cure for COPD, many treatment options exist that focus on relieving symptoms and avoiding respiratory infections.
Your doctor may recommend:
- Lifestyle changes
- Medications to reduce inflammation and relax the airways
- Supplemental oxygen
- Lung transplant (for severe cases)
The best way to address COPD is by catching it early and seeking appropriate treatment. The lung and pulmonary specialists at Tampa General Hospital are trained experts and evaluate every patient on a case-by-case basis to develop personalized treatment plans. In addition, TGH's experienced lung transplant team performs transplantations for adults who have chronic pulmonary disease or many other lung conditions.