What is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a condition where your airways narrow and swell, producing excess mucus. This triggers shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing.

Most commonly known by patients as smoker’s cough, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, COPD is actually a spectrum of disease which includes inflammation and irritation of the airways with excess mucous production (bronchitis), constriction of the airways (bronchospasm), with cough and damage to the air sacs with shortness of breath and the need for supplemental oxygen (emphysema). *

Damage of these airways and air sacs, can lead to low oxygen and to increased carbon dioxide. Our lungs rely on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to force the carbon dioxide out of the body. COPD causes the lungs to lose this elasticity and partially collapse, leaving some air trapped in the lungs when exhaling.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking and Secondhand Smoke Exposure
  • Occupational Exposures
  • Exposure to Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution
  • Wood Burning Stoves and Fires
  • Genetics
  • Severe Childhood Lung Infections
  • Oxidative Stress

Causes of COPD

Long term exposure to a large variety of lung irritants can be responsible or play a role in the onset of COPD. Smoking is the most common cause, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and marijuana smoking. Wood-burning fires and other pollutants may also contribute to lung inflammation, irritation, and destruction.

It has been found that smoking both marijuana and cigarettes increases the risk of COPD more than the use of either one alone. Continued exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause COPD, as can indoor and outdoor air pollution and exposure to dangerous fumes and gases on the job.

It’s estimated that 80-90% of those diagnosed with COPD are chronic smokers. The amount of smoking and the length of time one has smoked increases the probability that one will develop COPD.

Some of the more dangerous workplace exposures can include types of industrial dust and chemical fumes such as coal mine dust, silica and grain dust, exposure to isocyanates, natural rubber latex, animal dander, and platinum.

Genetics can contribute to COPD, such as alpha-one Antitrypsin Deficiency. The body is not able to make enough of a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin, which helps to protect the lungs from damage. This usually causes early onset COPD and if the individual smokes, it seriously exacerbates the problem.

 Symptoms of COPD

In the early stage, COPD may cause only very mild symptoms or no symptoms as all. As the disease progresses, symptoms may become more severe.  As the lungs become aged and less able to compensate, symptoms become more evident and noticeable.

The Most Common Symptoms Include

  • Ongoing Cough
  • Cough that Produces Increased Mucous
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the Chest
  • Recurrence of Colds, Bronchitis, or Flu

Severe Symptoms Include

  • Swelling in Ankles, Legs, and/or Feet
  • Weight Loss and Fatigue
  • Lessened Muscle Endurance
  • Difficulty Talking
  • Fast Heartbeat
  • Lips or Fingernails Turn Blue or Gray
  • Loss of Mental Alertness