Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Definition &CausesSymptomsInvestigations & TreatmentsRisk Factors & PreventionOutcome
Definition and Causes:


COPD is an obstruction/limitation of the airflow from and to the lungs. It refers to a couple of lung diseases and includes:


Structures of the normal lungs


- Chronic bronchitis:

Is the swelling of the lining of the 2 bronchial tube (bronchi) through which air passes into the lungs. The swelling cause increased mucus secretion that may further narrow the bronchial tubes and limit the air entry into the air sacs in the lungs.


Chronic Bronchitis


- Emphysema:

The air sacs (alveoli) are thin walled fragile sacs located in clusters at the end of the branching bronchi in the lungs. The alveoli stretch when air is breath in and shrink when the air is breath out.


In emphysema the alveoli get damaged losing their elasticity and cannot stretch as a result the air is trapped within the air sacs and is not available to the lung for air exchange due to limitation in airflow.




COPD is largely caused by cigarette smoking and other noxious particles.


The disease is commonly confused with asthma because of certain symptom overlap, however; asthma is not included in COPD, but people with asthma are at risk of developing COPD over time.


Back to Top

Most common symptoms:

  • Chronic or progressive shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Sputum production


Less common symptoms:

  • Wheezing/chest tightness
  • Additional features in severe disease, such as; weight loss, loss of appetite and tiredness are common and can be important sign of other diseases


COPD patients are also likely to experience episodes called acute exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse and persist for days or longer.


Note: Intensity may vary from patient to patient; symptoms may also develop independently; there is often a history of exposure to risk factors.


Back to Top
Investigations and Treatment:


A detailed account of past history is taken by the treating physician, including smoking history or any past exposure to lung irritants.


Physical examination:

The disease takes years to develop, and symptoms are often variable in intensity. Examination includes


  • Blood pressure, pulse, temperature
  • Chest exam (with stethoscope)
  • Colour changes in skin, finger tips (nail beds) toes
  • Check for swelling of the ankles
  • Pulmonary function tests: A lung function test is performed by blowing air in a large tube connected to a machine, that measures the air held by the lungs and how fast the air can be blown out of the lung. This can help detect COPD


If there is a history of smoking or exposure to lung irritants the doctor may suggest following tests:



  • Pulse oximetry (oxy-met-tree): A device which is placed on a fingertip or an ear lobe to measure blood oxygen saturation


  • Arterial (art-tee-ree-al) blood gasses (ABGs): Blood is extracted through a small needle placed into one of the arteries at the wrist and tested for oxygen levels


  • Chest x-ray: May show emphysema or other lung diseases


  • CT scan: Not a routine test for COPD, but may be used in select cases when diagnosis is still unsure




Acute exacerbations: Cause frequent medical visits, hospital admissions among COPD patients. Patients may benefit from antibiotics along with optimized treatment with medications that open (dilate) the airways in the lungs. These medications are called bronchodilators (bron-co-di-late-ors). Severe exacerbations may sometimes require a short course of injectable steroids (e.g. prednisone).



Early diagnosis with smoking cessation along with the use of effective medications improves symptoms of COPD.


COPD Medications


Back to Top
Risk Factors and Prevention:


  • Cigarette smoking
  • Occupational exposures
  • Air pollution
  • Lung growth during the gestational period and early exposure to smoke and noxious particles in life, may increase the risk of developing COPD
  • Age is considered one of the risk factor; however, it's unclear whether healthy aging is a risk factor or the age reflects the sum of total exposures throughout the life leading to COPD
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Lung infections
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma


Back to Top


COPD is a preventable and treatable disease; but with no permanent cure. Smoking cessation and compliance with prescribed medications would help to improve symptoms of COPD and reduce exacerbations.


Back to Top
Copyright © 2011-2019 Innovate R&D

educate Are you a Healthcare professional or patient?

Healthcare Professionals would include: Physicians (MD,OD), Physician assistants, Nurses, Pharmacists,Allied Health Workers (PT, OT, SLP, etc), Chiropractors, Paramedics, Optometrists, Dentists, Podiatrists etc, and students within these disciplines.

educate ** You are required to register **

eDucate is committed to optimizing the delivery of health information across the Healthcare continuum. To this end eDucate uses a wide array of learning tools, including Webinars, Quick Review Charts, Graphs, Brochures, Videos and Slide Presentations.

Professional Membership Benefits include free access to all archived and upcoming Webinars:

educate DISCLAIMER: This website is owned and operated by The Innovate Research and Development LP (Innovate R&D). All references herein to Innovate R&D shall be deemed to include any subsidiary, affiliate, associate or successor corporation of Innovate R&D. By entering and using this site, you agree to the "Terms of Use"for this website. If you do not agree to these terms and conditions then exit from this site immediately. Although Innovate R&D updates this website regularly with material believed to be accurate at the time of posting, Innovate R&D does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or currency of the material and consequently Innovate R&D expressly disclaims any liability for errors or omissions in the material contained in the website. The Innovate R&D website and all contents are provided as-is, and all representations and warranties, express or implied, relating to the website or the content are disclaimed, including any implied warranty of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose or non-infringement, as well as any warranty of quality, functionality, accuracy, currency, completeness, reliability, operability, use performance or absence of viruses. In no way or event will Innovate R&D or any party that has been involved in the creation, production, promotion and marketing be liable to you or any other party for perceived direct or indirect damages. You assume all responsibility and risk of loss resulting from the use of our website.