Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Patient Information Fact Sheet
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the blanket name for a number of lung conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These diseases make it difficult to breathe.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
The first symptom of mild COPD is an early morning cough that may produce phlegm (a smoker's cough). You may also have shortness of breath. As the condition gets worse, wheezing becomes more of a problem and everyday activities will make you more breathless than usual. If you have severe COPD, you will get breathless with the slightest activity, or even while resting. All of these symptoms may be worse in the winter or after a cold.
Who gets COPD?
COPD usually affects people over the age of 40 and is more common in men. A few sufferers could have a family history of COPD. The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Other causes include severe chest infections in childhood, repeated chest infections as an adult, and environmental pollution.
What tests confirm a diagnosis of COPD?
If you are a smoker, have a cough that produces phlegm, and suffer from shortness of breath, you may have COPD. Your doctor may ask you to blow into a machine called a spirometer, which measures how well your lungs are working. Your doctor may also refer you to a pulmonologist (a specialist in conditions that affect the lungs) for an x-ray or further tests.
How is COPD treated?
There is no cure for COPD, but a lot can be done to relieve your symptoms. Stopping smoking at any stage of the disease will help reduce your cough and phlegm. Drugs called bronchodilators open up the narrowed airways and make it easier for you to breathe. Depending on the severity of the disease either a short-acting or long-acting bronchodilator may be prescribed. Short-acting bronchodilators include albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA), levalbuterol (Xopenex), and ipratropium (Atrovent HFA). Long-acting bronchodilators include tiotropium (Spiriva HandiHaler), salmeterol (Serevent Diskus), formoterol (Foradil Aerolizer, Perforomist), arformoterol (Brovana), indacaterol (Arcapta Neohaler), and aclidinium (Tudorza Pressair). Your doctor may prescribe these for you to take with an inhaler, or in some cases, as a tablet or syrup. If the drug is inhaled, it may be more effective if used with a plastic bubble, called a spacer (e.g., AerochamberPlus). If required, a higher dose of these drugs can be given using a nebulizer. In this case, the doctor will give you a prescription for a nebulizer solution, which comes in small plastic ampules containing a liquid form of the drug. The ampules are opened and placed into a nebulizer, which converts the liquid into a fine mist that is then inhaled through a mask attached to the machine.