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Description: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) by Debra Wood, RN Definition Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease in which the lungs have difficulty expelling oxygen-depleted air. If all the space in the lungs is taken up by air that should be expelled, there is no room for fresh air, full of oxygen. The term COPD refers to both the diseases... More

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) by Debra Wood, RN Definition Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease in which the lungs have difficulty expelling oxygen-depleted air. If all the space in the lungs is taken up by air that should be expelled, there is no room for fresh air, full of oxygen. The term COPD refers to both the diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Although changes to lung tissue differ with the two diseases, the causes and treatment are similar.

Causes COPD develops due to:

Cigarette smoking Genetic predisposition that can make a person's lungs more susceptible to damage from smoke or pollutants (includes alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency) Inhaling toxins or other irritants Risk Factors A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Age: 50 or older Exposure to pollutants Family members with COPD History of frequent childhood lung infections Long-term exposure to second-hand or passive smoke Smoking cigarettes Symptoms Early symptoms of COPD include:

Coughing in the morning Coughing up clear sputum (mucus from deep in the lungs) Shortness of breath with activity Wheezing As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:

Breathing through pursed lips Choking sensation when lying flat Desire to lean forward to improve breathing Fatigue Heart problems Increased shortness of breath More frequent flare-ups (periods of more severe symptoms) Trouble concentrating Weight loss Diagnosis The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

Blood tests assessing the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood CT scan – a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the chest Chest x-ray Lung function tests Treatment There is no treatment to cure COPD. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.

Treatment includes:

Smoking Cessation Quitting smoking slows progression of the disease. Doctors consider it the most important aspect of treatment. Smoking cessation programs may include behavior modification and medications to help you gradually taper off cigarettes.

Environmental Management Limiting the number of irritants in the air you breathe may help make breathing easier. Avoid smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes.

Medication Medications may be taken by mouth or inhaled. Nebulizers and inhalers deliver drugs directly to the lungs. Drugs for COPD may work in the following ways:

Decreasing inflammation Helping thin secretions and bring up mucus from the lungs Opening the airways Relaxing the breathing passages Treating lung infections (antibiotics) Oxygen Oxygen is given to supplement the air you breathe in. It can increase energy levels and heart and brain function by increasing the amount of available oxygen.

Flu Prevention Because COPD makes patients prone to flu and pneumonia, doctors recommend an annual flu shot. Avoid being around people who are sick.

Exercise Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles and make breathing easier. Physical activity builds endurance and improves quality of life. Follow your doctor's recommendations for activity levels and restrictions.

Breathing and Coughing Techniques Special methods of breathing can help bring more air into and force trapped air out of the lungs. Coughing helps clear the lungs of mucus.

Nutrition Avoid gas-producing foods. Large meals and excess gas swell the stomach, which pushes up on the diaphragm. Drink fluids to keep mucus thin. Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetable and whole grain foods. Eat several small meals during the day. It makes breathing easier. Maintain a normal weight. Excess weight causes the lungs and heart to work harder. Lifestyle Changes Learn relaxation techniques and other methods to manage stress. Pace your activities. Seek emotional support from professionals, family and friends. Anxiety can increase the rate of respiration, making breathing more strenuous. Surgery A small number of patients may benefit from surgery.

Prevention You can reduce your chances of developing COPD by:

Avoiding exposure to air pollution or irritants Avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke Not smoking Wearing protective gear if exposed to irritants or toxins at work Last reviewed: January 2004 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD.

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