Cochin Cardiac Club

Health Blog by Dr.Uday Nair


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. It includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases asthma.COPD is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide.

What causes COPD?

COPD can be caused by many factors, although the most common cause is cigarette smoke. Genetics and environmental factors may cause COPD. For example, heavy exposure to certain dust at work, chemicals, and indoor or outdoor air pollution can contribute to COPD. Most COPD is caused by long-term smoking and can be prevented by not smoking or quitting soon after you start. This damage to your lungs can't be reversed, so treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and minimizing further damage.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?

The signs and symptoms of COPD include:
  • An ongoing cough or a cough that produces large amounts of mucus (often called "smoker's cough")
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness
These symptoms often occur years before the flow of air into and out of the lungs declines. However, not everyone who has these symptoms has COPD. Likewise, not everyone who has COPD has these symptoms.
Some of the symptoms of COPD are similar to the symptoms of other diseases and conditions. Your doctor can find out whether you have COPD.
If you have COPD, you may have colds or the flu (influenza) frequently. If your COPD is severe, you may have swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs; a bluish color on your lips due to a low blood oxygen level; and shortness of breath.
COPD symptoms usually slowly worsen over time. At first, if symptoms are mild, you may not notice them, or you may adjust your lifestyle to make breathing easier. For example, you may take the elevator instead of the stairs.
Over time, symptoms may become severe enough to see a doctor. For example, you may get short of breath during physical exertion.
How severe your symptoms are depends on how much lung damage you have. If you keep smoking, the damage will occur faster than if you stop smoking. In severe COPD, you may have other symptoms, such as weight loss and lower muscle endurance.
Some severe symptoms may require treatment in a hospital. You—with the help of family members or friends, if you're unable—should seek emergency care if:
  • You're having a hard time catching your breath or talking.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray. (This is a sign of a low oxygen level in your blood.)
  • You're not mentally alert.
  • Your heartbeat is very fast.
  • The recommended treatment for symptoms that are getting worse isn't working.
Diagnosis of COPD

To make an accurate diagnosis of COPD, your doctor should spend time with you discussing your medical history and perform a physical examination. Chest X-rays, spirometry, CT scans or blood work may also help in diagnosing your condition.
Treatment and Management of COPD

There's no cure for COPD. But proper medications and lifestyle changes can control symptoms and reduce the progression of damage to the lungs.
If you smoke, stop. It is the only way to prevent COPD from getting worse. Quitting isn’t easy, so talk to your doctor about medications that might help.
Medications are used to treat symptoms of COPD. These include:
•    Bronchodilators that relax the muscles around the airways
•    Inhaled corticosteroids can be helpful for people with moderate to severe COPD
•    Antibiotics are prescribed during symptom flare-ups because infections can make COPD worse
People with COPD are susceptible to getting lung infections, so get flu and pneumonia shots every year.
Avoid things that can irritate your lungs, such as smoke, pollution, and air that is cold and dry.

There are many things you can do at home to stay as healthy as you can.
  • Avoid things that can irritate your lungs, such as smoke, pollution, and air that is cold and dry.
  • Use an air conditioner or air filter in your home.
  • Take rest breaks during the day.
  • Get regular exercise to stay as strong as you can.
  • Eat well so you can keep up your strength. If you are losing weight, ask your doctor or dietitian about ways to make it easier to get the calories you need.

Complications of COPD

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Need for breathing machine and oxygen therapy
  • Right-sided heart failure or cor pulmonale (heart swelling and heart failure due to chronic lung disease)
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumothorax
  • Severe weight loss and malnutrition
  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)


Not smoking prevents most COPD. Ask your doctor or health care provider about quit-smoking programs. Medicines are also available to help kick the smoking habit. The medicines are most effective if you are motivated to quit.


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