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COPD: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention


What is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)?

COPD is a cluster of lung disorders that majorly comprises Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an umbrella term for a wide range of progressive conditions associated with the lungs.

COPD is a chronic lung disorder which causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Cough, difficulty breathing, mucus production, and wheezing are some classic symptoms of COPD. One of the major causes of this lung disease is long-term exposure to cigarette smoke or other irritating gases.

There is an increased risk of acquiring lung cancer or heart disease if you have Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The two most common conditions that play a massive role in COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis refers to the inflammation in the lining of bronchial tubes.

These tubes carry air to and from the lung's air sacs (known as the alveoli). It produces mucus and causes cough, narrowing the tube's opening and making breathing hard. The second condition, emphysema, is caused due to long-term exposure to irritating substances from gases and cigarette smoke which damages and destroys the bronchioles at the end of the air passages of the lungs.


COPD: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

What are the symptoms of COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) induces breathing problems. Though it develops gradually over multiple years, you may not know you have it at first. People suffering from COPD do not have noticeable symptoms until they reach their late 40s or 50s.

Have a look at the COPD symptoms given below to know more about this disease :

  1. Wheezing

  2. Tightness in chest

  3. Lack of energy

  4. Shortness of breath (especially during workouts or other physical activities)

  5. Chronic cough that might produce mucus (clear, yellow, white, or greenish in color)

  6. Frequent respiratory infections

  7. Weight loss in later stages

  8. Swollen legs, feet, or ankles

People with COPD may experience certain exacerbations, during which their symptoms become more alarming than their usual day-to-day possibilities and persist for longer than expected.

What are the causes of COPD?

COPD is caused when the airways of the lungs become inflamed and get damaged. It usually happens due to long-term exposure to some particular harmful substances, mostly cigarette smoke. Additionally, pipe smoke, cigar, or even second-hand smoke can cause COPD.

Major COPD causes include:

  1. Smoking – It is one of the leading causes of COPD and is responsible for 9 out of 10 cases.

  2. Fumes and dust at work – Exposure to dust and chemicals at work may damage your lungs and the risk of getting COPD increases if you smoke.

  3. Air pollution – Long-term exposure to air pollution can also cause COPD.

  4. Genetics – It is estimated that around 5 percent of people in the world with COPD have a protein deficiency known as alpha-1-antitrypsin. It may cause the lungs to deteriorate and adversely affect the liver.

When To Seek Medical Advice

Consult a doctor and seek their medical advice :

  1. If your symptoms are not improving with the recommended treatment and medications.

  2. In case your symptoms are getting worse, or you notice an infection, such as a change in mucus or fever.

  3.  If you can’t catch your breath, you feel foggy or experience a rapid heartbeat or have trouble concentrating.


How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is deciphered based on a patient's symptoms, a physical exam by a physician, and diagnostic lab test results. It can not be diagnosed only on the basis of a single test. Make sure to inform your doctor about all your symptoms and also mention things such as :

  1. If you smoke or might have smoked in the past.

  2. If you take OTC or prescription medications.

  3. If you have a family history (genetic condition) of asthma, COPD, or any other respiratory condition.

  4. If you have been exposed to harmful chemicals or lung irritants on the worksite.

Your doctor may do a few tests to get a complete picture of your lungs health, which include:

  1. Spirometry – In this test, the doctor will assess your lung function. This test works by measuring airflow in and out of your lungs

  2. Arterial blood gas test – In this test, a blood sample is taken from an artery to measure CO2 and oxygen levels.

  3. Imaging tests – Tests like CT scans and Chest X-Ray are done to get a detailed look of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

These tests will help the doctor determine if you have COPD Disease or a different respiratory condition.

What are the COPD treatment options?

COPD is not curable, but there are some COPD treatment options available that can ease its symptoms, prevent complications, and slow down its progression. Your healthcare team will consist of a respiratory therapist, a physical therapist, and a lung specialist known as a pulmonologist.

Below given are some treatment options which your doctor may recommend to treat COPD:

  1. Quitting smoking – One of the most crucial steps in a treatment plan for COPD is to quit smoking once and for all.

  2. Lung therapies – Some people with COPD are advised to start Oxygen therapy if the oxygen levels in their blood vessels aren't enough. It's recommended that one should join a Pulmonary rehabilitation program to learn breathing exercises and get counseling about lifestyle and nutritional diet.

  3. Surgery – The doctor advises surgery options like Lung volume reduction surgery, Bullectomy, and a Lung transplant for some people who experience a severe form of emphysema and whose symptoms don't improve with medications alone.

There are a few lifestyle change one can make to help with their symptoms, such as:

  1. If you smoke, discontinue this habit. Your doctor can suggest appropriate products or help services. Whenever feasible, avoid secondhand smoke and chemical fumes.

  2. Speak to your doctor regarding how much exercise is safe for you.

  3. Get the nourishment your body needs. Work with your physician or dietician to devise a healthy eating plan.

What are the best medicines for COPD?


These medications mainly come in the form of an inhaler. Their function is to relax the muscles around the airways. They also help relieve coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

There are a few types of COPD inhalers, however, the main types include:

1. Short-acting bronchodilator inhalers – These inhalers should be used when you are feeling breathlessness. They are used as the first line of treatment. Examples of short-acting bronchodilators include:

2. Long-acting bronchodilator inhalers – Your doctor will recommend long-acting bronchodilator inhalers if you experience COPD symptoms continuously all throughout the day. Examples of long-acting bronchodilators include:


 Inhaled steroids

These medications reduce airway inflammation and help prevent frequent exacerbations. Examples of inhaled steroids include:


Combination inhalers

Sometimes combined medications, ie combined bronchodilators and inhaled steroids, are used to relieve symptoms. Examples of these combination inhalers include:

  1. Formoterol and budesonide (Symbicort)

  2. Fluticasone and vilanterol (Breo Ellipta)

  3. Salmeterol and fluticasone (Advair HFA, AirDuo Digihaler, others)

  4. Fluticasone, umeclidinium, and vilanterol (Trelegy Ellipta)


Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor's

It's used by people suffering from severe COPD symptoms. Medication such as Roflumilast, a phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor, is used to decrease the inflammation of the airways.


Theophylline Tablets

Theophylline tablets relax the muscle of the airways and ease chest tightness and shortness of breath in people.

Antibiotics and Antivirals

These may be prescribed when one develops certain respiratory related infections.


What are the Prevention steps for COPD?

You can slow the progression of COPD and prevent it by adopting certain practices. Do the following to help yourself :

  1. Drink plenty of fluids

  2. Get a yearly flu shot

  3. Avoid exposure to lung irritants

  4. Keep regular appointments with your doctor

  5. Monitor oxygen levels regularly

  6. Quit smoking

  7. Practice healthy habits such as washing hands, maintaining cleanliness and sleeping for 8 hours, and eating a healthy diet.


What are the Risks Factors of COPD?

Risks Factors associated with COPD include:

  1. Individuals with asthma are at a higher risk for developing COPD, which increases even more if you smoke.

  2. People with Long-term exposure to cigarette smoking increase their chances of experiencing COPD exacerbations.

  3. Long-term exposure to vapors, dust particles, and chemical fumes at worksites can also induce irritation and inflammation in the lungs.

  4. Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is an uncommon genetic disorder that causes COPD in some cases.


What are the Complications of COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can cause many complications, such as the following:

  1. Depression

  2. High blood pressure in lung arteries

  3. Heart problems

  4. Respiratory infections

  5. Lung cancer


What is the Diet Recommended for people with COPD?

It's not mandatory for people to follow a specific diet while suffering from COPD. Saying that a healthy diet is important to maintain overall health. So try an include vegetables, fruits, protein, dairy, and grains, and go a little easy with salt intake due to its water retention properties.

Drink at least 6-8 ounce glasses of water and limit your caffeinated drinks intake. If you are overweight, your heart will have to work harder, and if you are underweight, you will not be able to perform basic body needs. So it's essential to maintain a healthy body weight. It would help if you also watch your eating habits.

If you feel any discomfort due to a full stomach after a meal, try these remedies:

  1. Save fluids until the end of the meal

  2. Take 5-6 smaller meals instead of 3 meals a day

  3. Chew slowly and take small bites

  4. Always clear your airways before a meal



COPD typically decreases life longevity, though the perspective varies considerably from person to person. Individuals with COPD who never smoked may have a subtle reduction in life expectancy, while former and present smokers are likely to have a more significant reduction. COPD tends to progress gradually.

You may not know you have it during the initial stages. Once you have a prognosis, you'll need to see your healthcare team regularly. You'll also have to take measures to manage your condition and make the relevant changes to your daily lifestyle. Your medic can help you control early symptoms, and certain lifestyle preferences can help you possess a good quality of life for some time.

As the disease advances, symptoms can become increasingly severe. People in severe stages of COPD may not be able to tend to themselves without aid. They're at increased risk of acquiring respiratory infections, heart problems, and lung cancer. They may also be at a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

Besides smoking, your stance depends on how well you respond to treatment and medications and whether you can avoid profound intricacies. Your healthcare provider is in the best position to assess your overall health and give you an idea about what to expect and hope regarding your condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the life expectancy of COPD?

    People with COPD live into their 70s, 80s, or 90s.

  • What are the 4 conditions of COPD?

    Four major conditions are wheezing, cough, mucus (sputum production), and breathing difficulty

  • Is COPD a serious disease?

    COPD is a serious disease and a leading cause of early death and disability.

  • Is there a connection between COPD and lung cancer?

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a significant risk factor for lung cancer.


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