According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 16 million adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
What is COPD?
COPD is a group of lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma. COPD can be caused by inhaling pollutants such as irritating gases or most often, from cigarette smoke. COPD causes obstructed airflow from the lungs, causing breathing difficulty.
Signs and symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath, breathlessness, or wheezing
- Persistent coughing
- Chest tightness
- Frequent respiratory infections
Consult with your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms.
How is COPD diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose COPD using a spirometry test—a simple test that measures how well the lungs are working. The test is non-invasive, and simply requires the patient to blow the air out of their lungs, into a mouthpiece that is connected to a spirometer.
The spirometer calculates the amount of air blown out in the first second and the amount of air blown out in six seconds or longer. Your doctor can use these test results to determine whether you have COPD and its severity. Your doctor may order additional tests such as the bronchodilator reversibility test, chest X-rays or chest computed tomography (CT) to rule out other lung disorders.
You may not notice symptoms of COPD until the condition has progressed beyond the early stages. For this reason, if you smoke or have smoked, have been exposed to lung pollutants or have a family history of COPD, ask your doctor about taking a spirometry test.
Although COPD is an incurable and progressive disease, proper diagnosis and treatment can help you manage COPD and breathe easier.
If you smoke, the first step to managing COPD is to stop smoking, as it is the only way to prevent symptoms from worsening. If you struggle to quit smoking, consult with your doctor for support.
Several types of medications such as inhalers and steroids may be used to treat the symptoms of COPD. Lung therapies may be used for patients with moderate or severe COPD that need supplemental oxygen. Patients also have success using rehabilitation programs that offer education, exercise training, nutrition advice, and counseling.