Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to two diseases, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, that obstruct the airflow and make it difficult to breathe. According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in America.
Symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
- Weight loss
- Swelling of the lower extremities
- Increased mucus
- The need to clear your throat often
- Reduced ability to exercise
People who smoke are most likely to develop COPD. Nearly 90 percent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking.
Other risk factors for COPD include:
- Air pollution
- Second-hand smoke
- Respiratory infections in childhood
Tests for COPD
Patient History and Physical Examination. Your doctor will ask questions about your health and will look for different COPD symptoms.
Pulmonary Function Tests. Pulmonary function tests may include:
- Spirometry. A machine is used to measure airflow entering and leaving the lungs.
- Postbronchodilator Spirometry. A spirometry test is repeated after you are giving a bronchodilator (an inhaled medication that opens the airways).
- Peak Expiratory Flow Rate. A portable device that has a small tube with a gauge that measures the maximum force you use to blow air through the tube.
Lung Volume Tests
Lung volumes can be measured in two ways:
- Gas Diluation. The patient inhales a gas, such as nitrogen or helium. The amount of volume in which the gas is distributed is used to calculate the amount of air the lungs can hold.
- Body Plethysmography. The patient sits in an airtight chamber and inhales and exhales into a tube. The pressure changes are used to calculate the volume of air in the lungs.
Diffusion Capacity. The patient inhales a very small amount of carbon monoxide (this is very safe). How much is taken into the blood is measured.
Oximetry. Measures the amount of light transmitted through an area of the skin.
Arterial Blood Gases. Blood is drawn from an artery, and tested for a variety of measurements.
Currently, no treatments can prevent the long-term decrease in lung function caused by COPD. However, the right treatments can slow the disease’s progression, relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
Medications. These include:
- Bronchodilators – drugs that relax the muscles and open the air passages in the lungs; they can be inhaled or taken orally.
- Corticosteroids – anti-inflammatory drugs that open the airways.
- Antibiotics – used in special cases when a patient is experiencing a lung infection.
Oxygen therapy. Oxygen is mostly delivered through a nasal cannula.
Lung Volume Reduction Surgery. The upper portions of the diseased lungs are surgically removed.
Lung Transplantation. Sometimes used as an option for severe cases.
Pulmonary rehabilitation. A program is designed using exercises for the lower and upper extremities, education, breathing retraining, and psychosocial support.
Nutritional support. A nutritionist works to develop a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet for patients who lose a lot of weight.
Living With COPD
As a patient's COPD progresses, his or her quality of life diminishes. This can limit a person's ability to work, exercise, perform household chores, engage in social and family activities, and even sleep.
Many people with COPD will eventually require supplemental oxygen, and most will require additional treatments. While treatments cannot stop the progression of the disease, they can slow the progression, relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
COPD Additional Resources
American Lung Association
A health organization dedicated to preventing lung disease and promoting lung health.
Researchers in the COPD Center conduct a number of investigations related to the study and diagnosis of chronic obstructive lung diseases. Our research is focused on the following areas:
- Development and validation of novel biomarkers which allow detection and monitoring of progression of the disease and assessment of treatment success or failure.
- Lung tissue based investigation of the gene and protein expression which distinguishes COPD and alpha-a1-antitrypsin deficiency-triggered diseased lungs from normal lung tissue.
- Chronic cigarette smoking changes the lung cell phenotype, causes apoptosis of alveolar structure cells and may ultimately give rise to the development of apoptosis-resistant cells; the spectrum of cellular and molecular alterations are being investigated in interdisciplinary fashion, with the participation of the UCHSC Cancer Center and investigators from the School of Pharmacy.
The pathomechanism of the so-called COPD exacerbation is poorly understood; our group is mounting an effort to focus clinical studies examining bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and lung tissue from patients with acute exacerbations.