Understanding COPD

  • Posted on December 20, 2010 at 9:29 am

COPD is one of the leading causes of death in North America.  World-wide millions of people have been diagnosed with the disease, however, just as many people have some form of lung impairment but have not been to the doctor for a diagnosis.  Studies have shown that many thousands of patients with COPD were completely unaware and it was due to an unrelated illness that they became aware that they had COPD.  The perplexing issue with COPD is that it may go unnoticed in its early stages because it is often confused with asthma, a bad cough, or a natural part of aging and so they do not take the steps necessary to get diagnosed.  The research has also shown that many people think of COPD as a disease that only affects the elderly, when in fact more than half of patients diagnosed with COPD are under age 65 and some people start having symptoms in their early 40s and 30s.

So what exactly is COPD?

To begin COPD is an abbreviation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and is a condition which is characterized by a gradual decline in lung function and capacity. With COPD there is a chronic inflammation of the airways specifically the bronchial tubes which causes obstruction of the air flow into and out of the lungs.  Imagine is you will they are not unlike clogged arteries which restrict the blood flow in and out of your heart.

COPD: Defined and expanded upon

  • Chronic means long-term – COPD is a condition patients live with for many years.
  • Obstructive means the airflow from the lungs is decreased and lung function is compromised.
  • Pulmonary refers to the fact that this disease affects your lungs – in fact, it affects all the tubes that take in air through your mouth and nose and into your lungs.
  • Disease means illness.

The term COPD is not new and in fact you may have heard of COPD in terms of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.   Emphysema involves damage to the air sacs (alveoli).   What is found is that the lungs are less able to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen because of loss of their elasticity and air remaining trapped inside.