A number of my patients—especially those who smoke, used to smoke or live with smokers—have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD refers to a group of lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that cause airflow obstruction and breathing-related problems. When a person has COPD, their airway passage narrows due to mucus build-up. This inhibits the flow of oxygen to and from the lungs, making it hard to breathe.
A serious, sometimes fatal, lung condition
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, COPD was the fourth-leading cause of death in the US in 2016. If untreated, COPD can lead to long-term disability, a dramatically diminished quality of life and in some cases, death. With proper management, however, most people with COPD can control their symptoms, have a good quality of life, and reduce their risk of other associated conditions including heart disease and lung cancer, says Healthline.
Smoking is the major cause of COPD but it can also be caused by:
- respiratory infections
- home and workplace air pollutants
- repeated exposure to lung irritants such as smoke, harsh chemicals or excessive dust
- genetic factors
- auto-immune disorders
Symptoms of COPD
Sadly, the symptoms of COPD generally don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred. A person with COPD may experience shortness of breath (especially climbing stairs), wheezing, a chronic cough that produces yellow sputum, chest tightness and frequent respiratory infections. They may also develop high blood pressure, heart problems, lung cancer, depression, confusion and memory loss.
5 questions you should ask your doctor about COPD
Early detection and treatment almost always bring about better outcomes. Here are 5 questions to keep in mind when you meet with your doctor:
1. What type of COPD do I have?
There are 2 types of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
2. What other symptoms might develop other than shortness of breath and a cough?
If you have emphysema, you might experience wheezing and tightness of the chest. If you have chronic bronchitis, you might have a continuous cough with yellow sputum, repeated respiratory infections and bronchospasm.
3. Can you get COPD from someone else?
No, COPD is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
4. How is COPD treated?
If you smoke, the best thing you can do is quit. Every state has a QuitLine. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to be connected to the one in your area. In addition, there are many treatments for COPD, including bronchodilators, vaccinations, inhaled steroids, antibiotics, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation programs and surgery.
5. Is there a cure for COPD?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for COPD. This is a disease that gets progressively worse, and the best course of action is early intervention to alleviate the symptoms, and smoking cessation.
To learn more about COPD, you might find these resources helpful:
- COPD Foundation
- American Lung Association/COPD
- National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute/What Is COPD?
To learn more
The above information is part of a longer blog I wrote on COPD, which you can read here.