What is COPD?
COPD is a group of lung diseases that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which are most often caused by heavy smoking. COPD can also include chronic asthma, which is a hypersensitivity of the air passages in the lungs. Bronchitis, emphysema and asthma all have one thing in common, they limit the flow of air in and out of your lungs. As a result you may cough, wheeze and feel short of breath.
Breathing is your body's way of getting oxygen to your blood. Normally, your lungs take in oxygen when you inhale fresh air and push our carbon dioxide. When you have COPD, movement of air into and out of your lungs is limited, and breathing becomes difficult.
When you breathe, you take in air through your throat into the trachea (windpipe) and then into the lungs. A dome shaped muscle (diaphragm) lies below the lungs. The diaphragm flattens to draw air in as you inhale, then rises as you exhale.
Air passes from the trachea into the bronchial tubes. These tubes branch out like a tree into smaller and smaller passages. Air travels through these branches, reaching the smallest airways-bronchioles, which end in air sacs called alveoli. Blood vessels surrounding the alveoli absorb oxygen into the blood stream. At the same time, the alveoli remove carbon dioxide from the blood.
How is COPD Treated?
COPD has no cure, but it can be treated. Your physician will work with you to develop plan which may include medication, learning to breath better, exercising, controlling stress and quitting smoking. Following through on your treatment plan will make the difference in how you feel.
When You Have COPD
The normal flow of air is blocked by excess mucus and inflammation (chronic bronchitis), by collapsed airways (emphysema), or by tightening of the muscles around the airways (chronic asthma).
As a result, you feel short of breath. You may also cough, wheeze, or feel weak.
COPD–Your Medical History
Your doctor first evaluates your lungs to diagnose your condition. They will take your medical history, do a physical exam and other tests to be done. Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan will be developed to control your symptoms and help you feel better. You will be monitored on your treatment plan and changes will be made as needed.
To diagnose your condition, your doctor needs to know the truth about your symptoms, lifestyle, and your family's medical history. You will be asked questions like: Do you smoke?
Have you been exposed to pollutants or dusts?
Is there a family history of lung disease?
Do you have shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, excess mucus, chest discomfort, swollen ankles?
COPD–Your Physical Exam Your doctor will give you a complete physical exam. It will include listening to your heart and lungs, examining your nose and throat and ordering tests, which include blood tests, a chest x-ray, and an EKG to rule out heart disease as the cause of your shortness of breath.
Pulmonary Function Tests
Your doctor will also order one or more pulmonary function tests. These tests measure how much air you can take into your lungs and how fast you can blow air out (spirometry), how much air you exhale and how much air is left in your lungs after you exhale (lung volumes), and how much oxygen is transported from your lungs to your blood (lung diffusion). These tests are done in the doctors office or the hospital lab. You may be tested before and after taking medicine, and these tests may become a part of your treatment plan.
Your doctor may also order other tests to help diagnose lung disease including pulse oximetry to measure the level of oxygen in your blood at rest and after exercise, a blood gas test to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, an exercise treadmill test to see how well your heart and lungs work under stress and a CT (computed tomography) scan to reveal the condition of your lungs.