The information below is courtesy of The Lung Foundation. Visit the Lung Foundation website for more information.
What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?
COPD is a term for a number of long-term lung conditions that cause trouble with breathing, and tend to get worse over time, including:
- Chronic bronchitis; and
- Chronic asthma
COPD Risk Factors
The main cause of COPD is smoking.
If you are in the earliest stages of COPD, you may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Feeling breathless
- A new or persistent cough
- Producing a lot of phlegm (mucus), which is swallowed or coughed up
- Wheezing and chest tightness.
COPD symptoms are very similar to asthma symptoms. COPD symptoms usually appear after 50, don’t respond well to medication, and they gradually get worse. Most people with COPD have been smokers. With asthma, people usually also have allergic conditions like hay fever. Their symptoms may flare up, but they go back to normal with medication.
COPD can lead to a range of complications, including:
- susceptibility to respiratory infections such as colds, the flu and pneumonia
- high pressure in the blood vessels to your lungs (known as pulmonary hypertension)
- an increased risk of heart disease
- lung cancer (for smokers)
- frequent visits to hospital
- a reduced quality of life.
If you notice that you are gradually getting shorter of breath, it is wise to see your doctor. Anyone over 35 who smokes should have a lung check for COPD, especially if they cough, bring up mucus on most days or are short of breath compared with others the same age.
First, your doctor is likely to take a medical history and ask you some questions, such as whether you smoke, if you have any allergies, and what sort of environment you work in.
After talking to you, your doctor may examine you and listen to your chest.
Finally, a breathing test called spirometry is used. This involves breathing into a small machine called a spirometer, which shows whether you have COPD, and if so, how bad it is. It can also help distinguish between COPD and some other conditions such as asthma. Some people may also need an x-ray of their chest or other tests.
There is no cure for COPD, but it can be managed. Things that can help manage the symptoms of COPD:
- Quit smoking
- ‘Pulmonary rehabilitation’ (an exercise program to help you breathe and function easier)
- Regular exercise
- Eat a healthy diet
- Medications that help you breathe easier (these are usually inhaled, and either work to open up the airways, or reduce inflammation inside them)
- Annual influenza vaccination and a possible one-off pneumococcal vaccine
- Act quickly if your symptoms flare-up (consult your doctor about the best way to do this)
- Keep oxygen at home, if you have severe COPD.