Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is also called emphysema or chronic bronchitis. COPD is a progressive, irreversible disease characterized by airflow obstruction. Cigarette smoking is the strongest risk factor and smoking cessation is a high priority for COPD patients.

It is a type of obstructive lung disease characterized by long-term breathing problems and poor airflow. Main symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath and cough with sputum production; thus eventually affecting everyday activities, such as walking, or even getting dressed.

According to a study done in 2015, COPD affected about 174.5 million of the global population. COPD typically occurs in people over the age of 40; males and females are affected equally. It resulted in 3.2 million deaths in 2015, up from 2.4 million deaths in 1990. The number of deaths is expected to increase further because of higher smoking rates in the developing world, and an aging population in many countries.

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How does Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) affect your body?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes inflammation of the respiratory tract with a pattern that differs from that of asthma. The inflammation affects small airways, resulting in progressive small airway narrowing, fibrosis, and destruction of the lung parenchyma with the destruction of the alveolar walls (emphysema). These changes result in airway closure on expiration, leading to air trapping and hyperinflation, particularly on exercise (dynamic hyperinflation). This leads to shortness of breath on exertion and exercise limitations.

What are the causes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause, with factors such as air pollution and genetics playing a small role.

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What are the risk factors of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

  • Exposure to tobacco smoke – Smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD. Not only smokers but even the people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke are at risk.
  • People with asthma who smoke – Increases the risk of COPD even more.
  • Occupational exposure to dust and chemicals – Exposure to chemical fumes, vapors, and dust in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.
  • Age – People at least 40 years of age are most affected with COPD because this condition develops over the years.
  • Genetics – Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD.
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What are the symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Chronic bronchitis causes a daily cough and mucus (sputum) production at least three months a year for two consecutive years. Other symptoms of COPD may include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • A chronic cough with mucus (sputum) with clear, white, yellow or greenish colour
  • The blueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
  • Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
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How is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)  diagnosed?

  • Lung function tests – These tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and if your lungs are delivering enough oxygen to your blood.
  • Spirometry – It is the most common lung function test where you are asked to blow into a large tube connected to a small machine called a spirometer. This measures how much air the lungs can hold and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs.
  • Arterial blood gas test – This involves taking a blood sample from an artery to measure the blood oxygen levels. This helps in determining COPD or maybe some other condition like asthma or heart failure.
  • Chest X-ray – This test can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD and can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure.

How to prevent and control Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD can be prevented by decreasing rates of smoking and improving indoor and outdoor air quality.

Treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – Allopathic Treatment

For those with a very severe disease, surgery including lung transplantation or lung-volume-reduction which involves removing the parts of the lung most damaged by emphysema is performed.

Medicines used-

  • Short-acting bronchodilators – This medicine helps to open airways to make breathing easier. Albuterol (Vospire ER), levalbuterol (Xopenex), ipratropium (Atrovent), albuterol/ipratropium (Combivent) are examples of bronchodilators.
  • Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids help in reducing inflammation in the body, making air flow easier in the lungs. Fluticasone (Flovent), budesonide (Pulmicort), and prednisolone are common corticosteroids used.
  • Methylxanthines – This medicine is a theophylline which works as an anti-inflammatory drug and relaxes the muscles in the airways.
  • Roflumilast – It is a phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor which helps to relieve inflammation, and can further improve airflow to the lungs.
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Treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Aspidosperma – Aspidosperma removes temporary obstruction to the oxidation of blood by stimulating respiratory centers and is considered to be a tonic for lungs.
  • Bryonia Alba – This is prescribed when there is a dry hacking cough which worsens at night.
  • Coca – It is useful for aged sportsmen and alcoholics.
  • Naphthaline – It is useful for emphysema of the aged with asthma.
  • Senega – It is prescribed when excessive dyspnea and sharp contractive pains in the muscles of the chest are present.
  • Lobelia – It is prescribed for COPD where there is coughing with vomiting.
  • Antimonium ars – This is used for excessive dyspnea and cough with lots of mucus secretion, which worsens while eating or lying down.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – Lifestyle Tips

  • Breathe more efficiently
  • Clear airways by drinking plenty of water, controlling coughing and using a humidifier
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy food
  • Avoid smoke and air pollution

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

A little exercise for 10-15minutes daily can help one stay strong.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) & Pregnancy- Things to Know

  • Bronchitis is dangerous during pregnancy and it causes fatigue. This diverts the energy from the growing fetus.
  • Cardiorespiratory system is affected during pregnancy because of the increased mucous secretion of the upper airway leading to nasal obstruction, and epistaxis (occasionally).

Common Complications Related to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • Respiratory infections
  • Heart problems
  • Lung cancer
  • High blood pressure in lung arteries
  • Depression


Q. How can I know if I have COPD when it is in the silent stage?

A. The best test for detecting early COPD is a breathing test called spirometry.

Q. What is spirometry?

A. Spirometry measures the amount of air that you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow it out, using a device known as a spirometer.

Q. If I smoke and my doctor listens to my lungs and orders a chest x-ray, is it still necessary to have spirometry?

A. Yes, you should go ahead with spirometry because it can detect COPD at an early stage whereas chest x-ray and other tests cannot.

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