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What Is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

smoking and coughing

Story at-a-glance -

  • Diagnosing for COPD starts with an examination of your medical history. Important details such as smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, and respiratory symptoms
  • Contrary to common respiratory illnesses that are contracted from microbes, COPD is generally caused by habits such as smoking and exposure to chemical fumes

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that can manifest into two types: chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Bronchitis is characterized by the appearance of mucus and swollen airways. Emphysema, on the other hand, is characterized by damaged lung tissue.1 While both diseases manifest in different ways, they can exhibit similar symptoms, such as:2

Shortness of breath



Unintentional weight loss

Frequent respiratory infection

A cough lasting longer than three months

If you spot any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is important that you visit a doctor right away for a proper diagnosis. They will be able to pinpoint the source of your breathing problems and establish a proper treatment plan for you. Saving healthy lung tissue and managing your symptoms is crucial in preventing your quality of life from worsening.

How to Diagnose COPD

Diagnosing for COPD starts with an examination of your medical history. Important details such as smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke and respiratory symptoms you’re currently experiencing are all taken into account.3 From here, you will need to undergo a series of tests to confirm your doctor’s diagnosis:4

  • Spirometry - This test is typically done as the first exam for COPD to check for the amount of air you can inhale and exhale. You will be asked to blow into a large tube connected to a spirometer. From here, the results will indicate how your lungs are currently performing compared to healthy lungs.
  • Chest X-Ray - Your doctor may ask for a chest x-ray to check for emphysema or other problems that are currently affecting your breathing. A computerized tomography (CT) scan may also be requested for a more in-depth look into your lungs.
  • Arterial Blood Gas Analysis - This test measures the ability of your lungs to bring oxygen into your bloodstream, as well as how well it can remove carbon dioxide.
  • Genetic Testing - Certain lab tests may be required to help rule out the cause of your symptoms if it does not point to COPD. For example, you may be examined for alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a rare cause for COPD.

Various Approaches for Treating COPD

Treatment focuses on removing the causes from your system. The first way to start treatment  is quitting smoking, as it is considered the most important step to preventing COPD from worsening.

If you’re having trouble quitting, there are several ways you can address this problem, such as attending support groups and fostering a healthy support system with your family and friends. Licensed therapists may also help you by initiating behavioral changes that can ultimately benefit your well-being.5

Your doctor may also recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program, a method that combines education, healthy diet and exercise to help rebuild your health. You will most likely work with various doctors in this regard. With discipline and by strictly adhering to your program, you may eventually restore the quality life you had before being diagnosed with COPD.6

For those who are diagnosed with advanced stages of COPD, you may undergo a lung transplant. This method is often performed  as a last resort because it takes time to find a donor and the operation itself carries many risks. You will also have to consider the fact that there’s a chance your body may reject the donated lungs. If all prior treatments have been unsuccessful, discuss your concerns with your doctor regarding surgery.7


COPD: An Introduction

What Is COPD?

COPD Symptoms

COPD Causes

COPD Stages

Types of COPD

COPD Treatment

COPD Life Expectancy

COPD Prevention



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