COPD, or chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, causes a constriction of the airway, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and mucus production.
COPD is also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. (NIH)
Individuals with COPD have alveoli (air sacs) that have lost their elasticity, become rigid, and trap carbon dioxide instead of oxygen. Inflammation follows, along with mucus production, which clogs the airways. These are perfect conditions for infection, so people with COPD are at an increased risk of pneumonia, and have an increased number of colds.
Symptoms usually get worse over time, especially if smoking is continued. Individuals with severe COPD may have bluish lips and nail beds, as well as swelling in the ankles.
Smoking is the primary cause of COPD. The other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to irritants, such as coal miners.
There is no cure for COPD, and it is not known how to reverse the damage done to the lungs. The most important treatment option is the cessation of smoking. Other treatments include pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and medicine such as bronchodilators that relax the muscles in the airways.
Another possible treatment is glucocorticosteroids, or steroids, for people with moderate to severe COPD. Steroids reduce airway swelling.
An article on clinical management of COPD states the importance of early detection. Many people with COPD are not diagnosed until the disease is far advanced. Spirometry measures a person’s lung capacity, and is an important tool for monitoring persons who might develop COPD.
Anticholinergics are commonly used to treat COPD, but a 2008 study warns that they bring a “significantly increased risk of cardiovascular death, MI, or stroke by approximately 58%.” The biological mechanisms for this correlation are not understood.