About This Condition
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to the combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, resulting in obstruction of airways and poor oxygen transport in the lungs, respectively.
Although chronic bronchitis and emphysema are distinct conditions, smokers and former smokers often have aspects of both. In chronic bronchitis, the linings of the bronchial tubes are inflamed and thickened, leading to a chronic, mucus-producing cough and shortness of breath. In emphysema, the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) are damaged, also leading to shortness of breath. COPD is generally irreversible and may even be fatal.
Symptoms of COPD develop gradually and may initially include shortness of breath during exertion, wheezing especially when exhaling, and frequent coughing that produces variable amounts of mucus. In more advanced stages, people may experience rapid changes in the ability to breathe, shortness of breath at rest, fatigue, depression, memory problems, confusion, and frequent waking during sleep.
People with COPD should stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke in order to slow the rate of lung function decline. Individuals with COPD should receive yearly pneumococcal (pneumonia) and flu vaccinations. Supplemental oxygen therapy and breathing rehabilitation programs are recommended in some situations. Severe cases might require lung volume reduction surgery or a lung transplant.