COPD—also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—refers to a group of lung diseases and conditions that block the airflow within the lungs making it very difficult to breath. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two primary conditions that make up COPD, however, other medical disorders such as asthma can also lead to the disease.
In the human body, air travels down the windpipe (also called the trachea) and into the lungs through two large tubes. Inside the lungs, these tubes divide allowing oxygen to pass through the lungs. COPD refers to obstructions in these tubes that ultimately block the oxygen that is needed to breath freely. COPD is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide and is most often caused by long-term smoking. Other elements can lead to COPD such as second hand smoke, cigar smoke, air pollution
and fumes associated with certain hazardous occupations.
Sufferers of COPD often experience chronic cough and extreme shortness of breath that gets worse with activity. In most cases, COPD symptoms begin to develop slowly and progress over time. If a person has COPD and is smoking, he or she must stop smoking immediately. In general, symptoms usually don’t appear until prominent lung damage has occurred. Fatigue, frequent infections, wheezing and headaches are also common symptoms associated with COPD.
There is no known cure for COPD because once damage has occurred to the lungs, the damage cannot be undone. However, by quitting smoking, the symptoms of COPD can be reduced. Certain medications such as bronchodilators, steroids and antibiotics can usually help control the symptoms and help ease the complications associated with COPD. In extreme cases where individuals suffer from emphysema, lung surgery can be performed so that some of the damaged lung can be removed. Lung transplants may be an option for individuals who meet specific criteria.