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What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is persistent obstruction of the airways occurring with emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or both disorders. In COPD, airflow through the airways (bronchial tubes) within the lungs is partially blocked, resulting in difficulty breathing. As the disease progresses breathing becomes more difficult, and it may become difficult to

carry out everyday activities. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and Canada.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) encompasses two groups of lung disease, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Emphysema is a condition where the air sacs in the lungs (called the alveoli) become over-inflated (think of a balloon that has been blown up almost to the point of popping). This over-inflation results from damage to the walls of the alveoli, which causes the airways to collapse. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, which are the airways that connect the windpipe (trachea) to the lungs. The bronchial tubes connect the windpipe to the lungs. When these tubes are inflamed, less air is able to flow to and from the lungs. The airways also become narrowed and clogged with heavy mucus. Chronic bronchitis means you have had bronchitis for three months or longer for two years in a row. Chronic bronchitis refers to a productive cough for at least 3 months of each of 2 successive years for which other causes have been ruled out. Emphysema describes destruction of the lung architecture with enlargement of the airspaces and loss of alveolar surface area.

Sometimes called chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a condition in which airflow in and out of the lungs is obstructed, which causes breathing difficulties. The cause of this obstruction in patients with COPD is chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Chronic means it happens frequently, over a long period of time. As the inflammation gets worse, the bronchi fill with mucus and grow narrower, making it harder for air to flow. This results in a chronic cough, as the body attempts to rid itself of the excess mucus that is irritating the lungs. This mucus is also known as phlegm or sputum. COPD can also cause high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), which can lead to a form of heart disease called cor pulmonale.

As with other tobacco-associated adverse health effects, smoking either cigarettes or cigars increases risks of COPD. Thus, cigar smokers are reported to have a 45% higher risk of COPD when compared to nonsmokers. COPD prevalence increases with age, but there is a dramatic synergy with smoking such that smokers have higher COPD prevalence and mortality and lung function losses as a function of amount smoked are dose-dependent. Unlike heart disease, quitting smoking does not produce substantial reversal of tobacco - harmful effects once COPD is established. As a result, in much of the developed world, COPD is increasing as a cause of death as cardiovascular death rates fall.

More information on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is persistent obstruction of the airways occurring with emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or both disorders.
What causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is caused by exposure to noxious gases or particles, especially cigarette smoke.
What're the risk factors for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? - The leading risk factor for COPD is smoking, which can lead to the two most common forms of this disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
What're the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? - People who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) usually have some symptoms of both chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
How is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosed? - Diagnosis of COPD begins with a medical history and physical examination. Other diagnostic tests for COPD include an arterial blood gas.
What's the treatment for hronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? - The goals of COPD treatment are to prevent further deterioration in lung function, to alleviate symptoms, and to improve performance of daily activities.
How to prevent hronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? - Lifestyle modifications that can help prevent COPD, or improve function in COPD patients, include: quitting smoking, avoiding respiratory irritants.
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