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10 FAQs About Living With COPD

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It refers to two long-term lung diseases -- chronic bronchitis and emphysema -- that often occur together. COPD makes it difficult for you to breathe. There is no cure for COPD, but you can take steps to manage the disease.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with COPD, you probably have many questions. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about living with COPD -- its symptoms, treatment, and causes.

1. What Happens to My Lungs if I Have COPD?

Tubes, called airways, carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have COPD, these airways may become partly blocked from swelling or mucus. This makes it more difficult to breathe.

At the end of the airways are many tiny balloon-like air sacs, which inflate and deflate when you breathe in and out. With COPD, these air sacs lose their elasticity. This can lead to the collapse of small airways and also make it more difficult for you to breathe.

2. What Causes COPD?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Being around other smokers also plays a role in an individual developing COPD.

Other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to other irritants, such as:

  • Chemicals
  • Dust
  • Air pollution

In rare cases, genes may play a role in COPD. People who lack a protein called alpha 1 antitrypsin may be more likely to develop the disease. Without the protein, their lungs are more vulnerable to developing COPD. If they are smokers, their disease tends to progress more quickly.

 

3. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?

These are the most common COPD symptoms:

  • A cough that doesn't go away
  • Coughing up lots of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Limitations in activity

 

4. How is COPD Diagnosed?

To diagnose COPD, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, do a physical exam, and conduct breathing tests.

The most common breathing test used to confirm a diagnosis of COPD is spirometry. This easy, painless test involves breathing into a large hose connected to a machine, called a spirometer. The spirometer measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs.

Your doctor may suggest additional tests to rule out other lung problems, such as asthma or heart failure, or to plan treatment. These may include other lung function tests, a chest X-ray, or a test to measure the level of oxygen in your blood.

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