Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a chronic lung disease in which the lungs are damaged, making it hard to breathe. In COPD, the airways that carry air in and out of your lungs become partially blocked or obstructed. That’s what makes it difficult to breathe.

COPD can be caused by:

  • Emphysema from smoking
  • Chronic bronchitis from smoking
  • Chronic asthma with bronchial scarring
  • Childhood lung infections
  • Work exposure to dusts and fumes
  • Genetics - "Family History"
  • Or, a combination of any of the above

Diagnosis of COPD includes a medical history, a physical exam, spirometry and other ordered tests. A spirometer is a device that measures the amount and speed of the air you forcibly blow out of your lungs. By looking at the amount of air you can exhale in one second (FEV1), the physician can determine if you have obstructed airways. The more your bronchial tubes are “obstructed” the slower the air will come out, the lower the FEV1. In COPD, the airflow obstruction is not completely reversible like it is in asthma.

Treatment of COPD will likely include medications. Many of the medications to treat COPD are taken by inhaling them into your lungs to relax and open the airways. Others are swallowed and work to prevent or reduce symptoms. Besides bronchodilators, treatment for COPD may be different for each person and is based on whether symptoms are mild, moderate or severe and may include.

  • Steroids (either inhaled or pills)
  • Oxygen
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • Surgery
  • There are also treatments to manage complications or a sudden onset of symptoms.

Understanding COPD and what you can do to control your symptoms is the key to being less short of breath and living a more active life.

For more information, visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's COPD Learn More Breathe Better website.