Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the collective name for a number of lung conditions that cause difficulties in a patient's breathing. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, wheezing, coughing up mucus, tightness in the chest, lethargy and unintended weight loss.
The condition is particularly common among smokers and includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is a chronic inflammation in the lining of the bronchial tubes. Emphysema is a long-term progressive lung disease that occurs when alveoli are gradually degraded, which has an adverse impact on the exchange of gases in the lungs.
COPD is irreversible, but treatment can help control symptoms and may prevent further damage. Left untreated, the condition may lead to further serious complications, including: lung cancer, heart problems, high blood pressure and dangerous infections in the respiratory system.
Physicians diagnosing COPD may order a range of tests, such as CT scans, chest x-rays, arterial blood gas analyses and pulmonary function tests. Oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation programs and a yearly flu vaccination may also be recommended for patients with COPD.
Doctors will recommend cessation of smoking and may prescribe medication to alleviate breathing problems. Drug classes often used to treat COPD include: PDE4 inhibitors; plain anticholinergic inhalants; beta agonists; and anticholinergic combinations with B2-stimulants.