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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lung disease that progresses slowly over time, making it difficult to breathe. In people who have COPD, the airways, or tubes that carry air from the nose and mouth into the lungs, are partially blocked – either because of thickening and mucus, or because the airways are floppy and collapse, or both. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 120,000 Americans each year; that is one death every four minutes1 . More than 12 million Americans are currently diagnosed with COPD, including 1.6 million people in California2 , and it is thought that an additional 12 million people have the disease and are unaware of it3 . In the early stages of the disease the signs may be very subtle and many people might think they have gained weight, are out of shape, or are just getting older. Many people do not seek prompt medical attention for COPD because early symptoms are so subtle. COPD is also a leading cause of disability4. When severe, it interferes with a person’s ability to do everyday things like take a shower or tie their shoes.

COPD refers to a classification of diseases that obstructs air ways, making it very difficult to breathe. COPD consists of two primary diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Often they occur together, but can occur separately as well. Chronic asthma is also considered part of the COPD classification, and often individuals with bronchitis and emphysema may have chronic asthma.

What causes COPD?SmoggyLA

Emphysema is primarily caused by smoking or persistent inhalation of harmful particulates, but can also be caused by a genetic disorder called Alpha-1 anti-trypsin (ATT) disorder. Tobacco use is the number one cause of Chronic Bronchitis and environmental factors, such as air quality and nutrition contribute to its development.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The primary symptoms of emphysema are shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.  Emphysema is the permanent destruction of air sacs or alveoli in the lungs. The alveoli are responsible for processing the exchange of carbon dioxide in the blood and replacing it with oxygen. When alveoli are damaged and destroyed, the small air sacs at the end of the airways or bronchioles are stretched and lose their elasticity for expansion and contraction. Air is prevented from entering and being expelled from the lungs. The trapped air causes the lungs to become larger. This pushes the pulmonary muscles and diaphragm muscles, causing the patient to make an extra effort so that air can be inhaled and exhaled, which leads to shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Chronic bronchitis is a cough with sputum (phlegm) and mucus production. In chronic bronchitis, the inflammation of the bronchioles decreases the amount of oxygen that passes through and causes an accumulation of mucus in the airways. The protective layers of the airways and the cilia that clean the mucus from the lungs get damaged. The lungs become irritated causing the muscles around and the bronchioles to also shrink.

How is COPD diagnosed?spirometer

The main test for COPD is called “spirometry”. To take the test, you will take a deep breath in, then blow as hard and fast as you can into a tube connected to a machine called a spirometer. This simple and painless test is intended to measure the amount of air that can be forcefully exhaled in one breath. Other tests may include a chest x-ray or a chest CT scan.

How is COPD Treated?

There is no known cure for COPD, but it is manageable if diagnosed early. If you smoke, it is very important to quit smoking. Medications for COPD include inhaled bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around your airways to make breathing easier, and inhaled steroids to help reduce airway inflammation. Other treatments for COPD may include vaccines, pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab), oxygen therapy, and surgery.

COPD Resources

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

Learn More, Breathe Better Campaign (NHLBI):

NIHSenior Health (National Institutes of Health):

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

COPD Pocket Consultant Guide Online Community

Mesothelioma Guide

Información sobre La EPOC:

Nicole and Female Particant LCE Church Event - Copy

Instituto Nacional del Corazón, los Pulmones y la Sangre (NHLBI):

Infórmese Más y Respire Mejor (NHLBI):

MedlinePlus (Institutos Nacionales de la Salud):

Centros para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades:

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Promoting clean air and healthy lungs through research, education, advocacy and technology.

Our Vision

To protect the breath of life by eliminating the causes of lung disease and reducing the suffering of those afflicted by lung disease.

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