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Overview and Facts

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease of the lungs that slowly develops over time causing breathing to become difficult. As this disease progresses the airways thicken and become inflamed. Air sacs within the lungs lose their elasticity and many of the walls between the air sacs eventually are destroyed. This causes the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs to become inhibited, resulting in breathing difficulties both when inhaling and exhaling. Chronic bronchitis is referred to a COPD condition in the United States as this form of bronchitis causes the airways to thicken from inflammation and irritation. This causes thick mucus to form in the airways, causing difficult breathing. Most individuals who are diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is estimated that over 12 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and many may not even be aware that they have it. When this disease becomes severe, it can prevent individuals from doing everyday tasks because of shortness of breath. This disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and around the world.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of COPD do not normally appear until a considerable amount of lung damage has occurred. COPD symptoms include shortness of breath, tightness in chest, productive cough and wheezing. Individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also have more frequent bouts with flus and colds and may experience swollen ankles, legs and feet. They also could have a bluish tinge on their lips because of the blood oxygen levels being low. Chronic bronchitis symptoms include wheezing and chest discomfort. Other signs of bronchitis include an ongoing cough and a cough that produces mucus in large amounts.

Causes and Diagnosis

COPD and chronic bronchitis are usually caused from cigarette smoking. They can also occur from inhaling pollutants in the air such as second-hand smoke or from long-term exposure to irritants such as dust or chemical fumes. Both of these conditions are diagnosed based on the symptoms the individual may be experiencing, their medical history, family history and results of tests. The doctor usually will also inquire about any smoking history or any exposure to toxins. If a cough is present, they will normally ask how long the cough has existed and if mucous occurs when coughing. The physician will also use a stethoscope for examining the lungs by listening for abnormal noises such as wheezing. For a diagnosis of bronchitis, the physician will ask about any cough that may be present, seek information on past colds or flus, smoking history as well as family history. They will also listen to the lungs for abnormal sounds.

Tests and Treatments

Testing for COPD usually includes lung function tests that measure breathing ability and the capability of the lungs to receive oxygen. This test involves blowing as hard as possible into a tube that is connected to a spirometer machine. This test can determine if this disease is present before symptoms occur. It also can tell the physician how severe it is. Other tests include an arterial blood gas test that measures oxygen levels in the blood. Chest x-ray and CT scans are also normally done. As of yet there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease although there are treatments available to slow the progression of the disease and help individuals remain active. COPD treatment includes quitting smoking and taking prescribed medications that assist in opening airways for better breathing. The doctor may also prescribe oxygen therapy for individuals with severe breathing difficulties. Surgery is sometimes recommended for patients who suffer severely with this disease when all other treatments have failed to provide relief. Lung transplants can be an option for some individuals. Testing for bronchitis usually includes testing the levels of oxygen in the blood by using a sensor that is attached to the toe or fingertip. The doctor will oftentimes obtain a mucus sample for examination of bacterial infection as well as order a chest x-ray or CT scan. Bronchitis treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms to allow breathing to be easier. Individuals who suffer with chronic bronchitis will usually be given bronchodilators to help open the airways as well as steroids either in pill form or as inhalers. They will also be advised to refrain from smoking and if needed will be prescribed oxygen therapy.

Tips and Home Remedies

Although there is no cure for COPD, there are some tips that individuals can do to keep themselves more comfortable. Anyone who has been diagnosed with these conditions should always avoid lung irritants. They should stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke. Keeping windows closed when air pollution is elevated will help prevent symptoms from worsening. Medications should be taken as prescribed to manage the symptoms and making sure that needed mediations are always on hand can avoid symptoms from becoming worse. Getting annual flu shots is often recommended for patients with these conditions to prevent serious complications.

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