Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease which is characterised by persistent respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation. The airflow limitation is associated with airway or alveolar irregularities provoked by significant exposure to noxious particles or gases. The chronic airflow limitation is caused by a combination of small airways disease like obstructive bronchiolitis and parenchymal destruction.
Common COPD symptoms include cough and sputum production, dyspnoea and wheezing. COPD patients experience cough throughout the day. Cough in COPD is often productive of relatively small amounts of sputum which is usually purulent. Breathlessness or dyspnoea is the symptom that produces most disability in COPD. It occurs usually with exertion, and as the disease progresses, dyspnoea may occur while at rest. Wheezing is the result of bronchial muscle contraction and structural narrowing of the airways.
Other COPD signs and symptoms may also include the following:
Tobacco smoking is the most commonly encountered cause of COPD worldwide. Smoking other types of tobacco, such as pipe and cigar, and marijuana can also place the smoker at risk for COPD.
Non-smokers may also develop COPD when associated with long-term exposure to particles and noxious gases. Host factors including genetics, airway hyper-responsiveness and poor lung growth during childhood can be COPD causes, too.
Additionally, cumulative exposure to outdoor, indoor and occupational air pollution is a COPD risk factor. Indoor air pollution is caused by the burning of woods and biomass fuels.
According to the U.K. National Health Services, COPD can be treated by lifestyle changes, medicines, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy and surgery, to help improve the overall wellness of the COPD patient and slow the progress of the disease.
Major lifestyle changes include quitting smoking, avoiding lung irritants, and creating a COPD diet plan as well as a physical activity plan with a doctor.
Medications that are recommended for treating COPD can come in a liquid form (inhaled or nebulized medications) or in tablets or capsules (orally taken medications).
Pulmonary rehabilitation is aimed at treating patients with chronic breathing problems. It is a broad programme which may include an exercise programme, a disease management training, and nutritional and psychological counselling.
Oxygen therapy can help improve the breathing of a patient with severe COPD who has low oxygen levels in the blood. The patient may need oxygen all the time or at certain times, which can be given using nasal prongs or a mask.
Surgery may be considered when the COPD symptoms are severe and have not been improved by taking medicines. Surgical treatment options associated with treating COPD include bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery, and lung transplant.