Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a type of lung disease that involves damage or obstruction to the airways of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. COPD is an overall term referring to a group of chronic lung conditions, most commonly including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and possibly asthma or asthmatic bronchitis. While chronic bronchitis and emphysema may occur separately, it is common for patients to have both diseases at the same time.
Chronic bronchitis is characterized by an ongoing, mucus-producing cough that that occurs most days of the month, three months a year for two consecutive years or more. Constant coughing causes the bronchial tubes to become inflamed. Eventually, the airways become scarred. Long-term irritation also leads to the production of mucus, which further irritates and blocks the bronchial tubes. As a result, less oxygen is able to enter the airways.
In addition, the excessive mucus in the bronchial tubes provides an environment for disease-causing bacteria to grow. Therefore, lung infections are common complications of chronic bronchitis.
Emphysema is an incurable illness that occurs when the walls between the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs lose their ability to stretch and recoil, causing shortness of breath (SOB).
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that COPD affects up to 24 million Americans, and according to the American Lung Association, is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. COPD patients typically die from complications, such as severe lung infections, heart problems, or lung cancers.
The main risk factor for COPD is smoking. Researchers estimate that smoking causes 80-90% of COPD deaths. According to the American Lung Association, female smokers are nearly 13 times more likely to die from COPD than females who have never smoked. Male smokers are nearly 12 times more likely to die from COPD than males who have never smoked.
There is currently no cure for COPD. Instead treatment focuses on reducing the symptoms and complications of the disease. Treatment varies, depending on the specific condition. It can range from medication and oxygen supplementation to transplant surgery. Bronchodilators are commonly used to relax the bronchi muscles in the lungs that can cause bronchospasms and restrict the airways.

Related Terms

Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (AAt), Arterial blood gases (ABGs), bronchial tubes, bronchitis, bronchodilators, chronic bronchitis, corticosteroids, cutis laxa, dyspnea, emphysema, inhaled steroids, leukotriene modifiers, lung disease, lung transplant, Marfan syndrome, plethysmograph, pulmonary disease, pulmonary function tests, pulse oximetry, PFTs, respiratory failure, shortness of breath (SOB), smoking cessation, spirometry test, sputum examination, supplemental oxygen.