What is COPD?
XPLOR Portable Concentrator in use by an active COPD patient enjoying an outdoor walk.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, is a type of chronic lung disease that involves ongoing inflammation of the lungs, which results in frequent coughing and difficulty breathing. It is most often caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke or similar types of irritants, and it can make individuals more likely to develop other lung and heart problems.


There are three main types of COPD, all of which typically result in similar symptoms, including increased coughing and difficulty breathing.


Emphysema occurs when the alveoli, or air sacs, of your lungs are damaged and meld together into a large air sac that does not function properly. This damaged air sac does not absorb oxygen properly, resulting in the reduction of surface area for oxygen to diffuse into and carbon dioxide to diffuse out. Once your lungs become damaged, it is more difficult to breathe properly because air gets trapped inside your lungs instead of flowing out properly.

Chronic Bronchitis

Ongoing coughing, mucus buildup, and difficulty breathing may indicate chronic bronchitis. This type of COPD typically involves damaged or deteriorated cilia, which are the tiny fibers that move excess mucus out of your throat. This leads to coughing and an increase in mucus buildup.

Refractory Asthma

Refractory asthma has similar symptoms to other types of asthma. However, it does not respond to common asthma treatment options, which makes successfully treating it more challenging. This type of COPD is less common than emphysema and chronic bronchitis.


COPD is typically caused by various environmental factors, and certain genetic factors can also increase your risk and the overall severity of the disease.

Environmental Risks

Exposure to various types of lung irritants over time is the most common cause of COPD. Smoking is one of the highest risk factors for developing COPD, and living with or otherwise spending time around people who smoke for a significant period of time can also increase your risk. Other irritants that are found in the air and can make you more likely to develop COPD include air pollution, dust, and various chemicals.

Genetic Risks

Certain genetic factors can also put you at risk for developing COPD. People who do not have a type of protein called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin tend to be more likely to develop COPD than people who do have this protein. People who are over age 40 also tend to develop COPD at a higher rate than younger people when missing this protein or exposed to these air contaminants.


No matter what type of COPD you have, the condition is characterized by frequent coughing and difficulty breathing. Other common symptoms include:

● Excess mucus buildup

● Wheezing

● Tightness in your chest

● Low energy

● Blue fingernails

● Rapid weight loss

● Swollen feet, ankles, or legs

It is also possible to have no symptoms at all during the early stages of developing COPD.


COPD is usually diagnosed through a combination of tests that may include lung function tests, a chest x-ray, a CT scan, an arterial blood gas analysis, and other laboratory tests. Your doctor may also evaluate your medical history, family’s medical history, and history of smoking or other long-term exposure to smoke.


There is no cure for COPD, and treatment options are intended to help patients manage their symptoms over time.

First and foremost, smokers should do their best to quit smoking as quickly as possible after developing COPD. Although this is not likely to get rid of COPD once your respiratory system has been damaged, eliminating smoking can go a long way toward keeping your symptoms from getting worse.

Several types of medications, including short-acting bronchodilators, long-acting bronchodilators, and certain types of steroids can help patients control symptoms. Many of these medications are taken using an inhaler. You may also be more likely to need antibiotics if you develop another type of infection that can make your symptoms worse.

Other treatment options that may help minimize your symptoms include oxygen use, pulmonary rehabilitation, breathing exercises, nutritional therapy, and regular exercise.

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