Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease, is the name given to a group of pulmonary, or lung, diseases that are characterized by lung inflammation and destruction. One of the most common forms of lung diseases, COPD, manifests as chronic cough producing sputum and difficulty in breathing.

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF COPD?

Basically there are two types of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. However, the majority of patients develop a combination of both the forms.

The two forms are different by way of location of the disease. In chronic bronchitis, there is recurrent and persistent inflammation of the upper airways, or bronchi, whereas in emphysema, the disease affects the lower airways (alveoli and bronchioles). In emphysema, the walls of the alveoli are destroyed, causing impaired exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

WHAT CAUSES COPD?

One of the most common causes of COPD is cigarette smoking. Acting as an irritant, cigarette smoke causes inflammation of the lung tissues. Prolonged and persistent smoking leads to permanent destruction of the lung tissues.

Prolonged second hand cigarette smoke exposure, breathing in polluted air for a long time, workplace exposure to harmful gases and fumes for a long period of time and use of fire for cooking in a non-ventilated place for a long time are some of the less common causes.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF COPD?

COPD presents with the following signs and symptoms:

Recurrent cough that may or may not produce sputum
Shortness of breath aggravated by slightest exertion that gets worse gradually over a period of months and years
Wheezing
Reduced tolerance to exercise
Generalized fatigue and malaise
Increased frequency of acute respiratory infections

In the initial stages, symptoms of COPD are very similar to the symptoms of acute respiratory infections such as acute bronchitis.

HOW IS COPD DIAGNOSED?

Diagnosis of COPD is done on the basis of the presence of history of chronic symptoms of cough and shortness of breath. Abnormal sounds on stethoscopic examination of the chest may be heard in some cases. A chest X-ray will show abnormal changes in the lungs.

The most significant test that is used to diagnose COPD is spirometry, or pulmonary function test. This test measures the lung capacity, which is decreased in COPD patients. An accurate diagnosis of COPD is made using this test.

HOW IS COPD TREATED?

There is no cure of COPD and the aim of treatment is to provide symptomatic relief. The initial step in COPD management is complete smoking cessation, as smoking causes rapid progression of the disease, causing it to become fatal.

Inhalers such as Atrovent and Albuterol are given to relieve the symptoms of bronchospasm. Steroids and oxygen therapy may have to be prescribed in patients with severe disease.

Acute flare ups can be prevented by avoidance of cold and humid environments and second hand exposure to cigarette smoke and air pollution. Eating a well balanced and nutritious diet is also advised.

by  Dr. Ritu Goel