Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory group of lung diseases that cause obstructed airflow from the lungs. Over 16 million Americans have COPD, and it is the 3rd leading cause of disease-related death in the U.S. COPD symptoms consist of difficulty breathing, cough, mucus production, and wheezing. It is caused by long-term exposure to irritants, which in most cases, is due to smoking. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two main forms of COPD, and it is commonly misdiagnosed, leaving potentially millions more affected.
Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes. The bronchial tubes carry air to and from the air sacs of the lungs. The inflammation in these tubes causes mucus buildup, which adds to the difficulty of moving oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. Frequent cough or a cough that produces mucus, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath are the main symptoms.
Smoking is the top cause of chronic bronchitis occurring in over 75% of long-term smokers. Second-hand smoke and regular exposure of the lungs to chemical irritants is the next cause in line.
Emphysema [HW1] affects the elasticity of the air sacs in the lungs. It weakens their inner walls, and they begin to rupture over time. This creates larger air sacs instead of lots of tiny ones. Emphysema causes shortness of breath because the air that comes into the lungs cannot be pushed out entirely. Old air gets trapped and takes up space, and there is less room for fresh air to come in. Symptoms take a while to develop but include shortness of breath, loss of mental alertness, and lips, and fingernails are blue from oxygen loss.
Smoking is also the top cause of emphysema, but other inhaled irritants or chemicals for long periods are also causes.
The first step in treating COPD is to stop smoking altogether. While it may seem daunting, quitting smoking keeps COPD from getting worse and impairing your ability to breathe. Talking with your doctor about nicotine replacement products or smoking cessation programs can help. Currently, COPD is managed by medications, lung therapies, surgery, and controlling exacerbations.
Inhaled and oral medications target reducing inflammation in the lung passages, relaxing muscles around the airways, or a combination. Lung therapies provide supplemental oxygen or education lung rehabilitation programs. In more severe cases that haven’t responded to medications, surgery can remove damaged tissue or large air spaces to improve airflow.
Thanks to clinical research studies and their volunteers, progress has been made in available COPD-specific treatments approved by the FDA. However, more work is needed to provide a better and longer future for COPD sufferers. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with COPD, research studies may be an option. To learn more about the COPD studies enrolling here at InQuest, call (832) 606-2053, or contact us here.
Medlineplus.gov | Chronic Bronchitis
Mayoclinic.org | Emphysema
Mayoclinic.org | COPD