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Conditions In Brief

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease. It means there is an airflow problem in the lungs, which makes breathing very difficult. The condition is most often caused by damage to the lungs from smoking cigarettes. The two common forms of COPD are: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases often occur together. But, you may have symptoms more characteristic of one than the other. Typically, patients with COPD have chronic shortness of breath and a chronic cough. They frequently cough up phlegm.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis

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Chronic bronchitis is characterized by inflamed airway tissue and excessive mucus production. This leads to a persistent, productive cough for several months each year. The inflammation causes the large and small airways of the lungs to become narrowed. The lining of the passageways may become scarred. This makes it hard to move air in and out of the lungs. It results in shortness of breath.

Emphysema

Emphysemic Lung

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In emphysema, the walls between the tiny air sacs in the lungs lose their ability to stretch. They eventually become weakened and break. As the lung tissue becomes less elastic, air is trapped inside the air sacs. This impairs the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Almost all COPD is caused by cigarette smoking. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The American Lung Association estimates that more than 12 million people have COPD. This number could be up to 24 million, since some people may not know they have it. Deaths from COPD are greater among women than men. Sometimes people can miss the early warning signs of COPD, like shortness of breath. Missing these early warning signs often means that the disease is not found until much later and when it has worsened. When COPD is found early, there are treatments available to help manage the disease.

References:

About COPD. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/about-copd. Accessed October 1, 2012.

COPD. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated September 25, 2012. Accessed October 1, 2012.

What is COPD? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd. Accessed October 1, 2012.

What you can do about a lung disease called COPD. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease website. Available at: http://www.goldcopd.org/uploads/users/files/GOLD_Patient_RevJan10.pdf. Accessed October 1, 2012.

Last reviewed October 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.