COPD - A Disease of the Lungs

COPD is short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and basically means that your lungs do not work as well as they used to as a result of permanent damage. Unfortunately COPD is a condition that does not go away, however there are treatments that can stop you from getting worse and help you to live as normal a life as possible.

What is it?

As the name implies COPD is a chronic condition and comes about as the result of irreversible damage to your lungs over many years. The culprit is most often cigarette smoke, however it can also be the result of breathing in poisonous chemicals such as coal dust. There are two main ways in which the lungs can be damaged in COPD and these are represented by two conditions known as emphysema and bronchitis. Those with bronchitis have narrow and inflamed airways, which subsequently makes it harder to breathe. Inflamed airways tend to produce too much mucus and this will cause you to cough more than usual. There are two types of bronchitis; one is acute and the other chronic. The acute kind is the one that causes a cough usually due to a virus and goes away within a matter of days or weeks, however in COPD the bronchitis is chronic and will never go away completely. The second type of damage is emphysema and this is wear the lungs lose elasticity and are therefore unable to move air out properly. This means that you are unable to get all of the air out of your lungs when you breathe out and so you are not getting the full amount of fresh air when you breathe in. It is possible for someone with COPD to have emphysema and bronchitis at the same time.


Coughing and shortness of breath are by far the most common and essentially universal symptoms of COPD. The cough is one that will probably never really go away and you will more than likely find that over time you will become more short of breath and will be unable to perform those everyday tasks. It is possible to get attacks of COPD where your symptoms become quite bad ant you may even require a visit to the hospital.


You must stop smoking if you still do this or else you are on track to worsening lung function and a very miserable life. This is certainly not an easy task but it is one that you can talk to your doctor about and get support. There are many nicotine replacement therapies out there and you may find that the gum, patches or lozenges help you to give up. There are also medications called champix and zyban that may help you to give up and your doctor must prescribe these. Staying healthy is also critical and there is lots of merit in taking part in a lung care program. These are usually organized in hospitals, however you should talk to your doctor about this useful resource. Regular exercise is always helpful even if it is very light. You may find that you get short of breath easily and that exercise is quite difficult. However you should stick at it and remember not to exert yourself too much. You should get your flu and pneumonia immunizations and when you have COPD you are increased risk of acquiring these conditions and if you do obtain them you can become very sick as your lungs are not in the same shape that younger more healthy people’s are in.

There are medicines that you can inhale that can be quite affective in managing your symptoms. The inhalers that you get will be similar to asthma inhalers and breathing in medicine in this way will help you to open the airways and make breathing easier. Fortunately there are many types of inhaler and so if you find your difficult then you can discuss different options with your doctor. A spacer is a very effective inhaled medication delivery device that probably has some benefit in patients with COPD.

You will most probably be started on a fast acting inhaled medication of which there are two types. One is a class of drugs called beta 2 agonists such as salbutamol and the other contains anticholinergic medications such as ipratropium. If one of the types is not effective on it’s own then your doctor may suggest that you take both of them together. The second step if this does not manage symptoms is to then go on to use a long acting medication that does not work as quickly but will last for up to 12 hours at a time. These long acting medications are just extensions of the short acting, being long acting beta 2 agonists and long acting anticholinergics. The names of these medications are formoterol and tiotropium respectively. Both types work well and will hopefully ensure that you have less attacks of COPD. Your doctor may also prescribe a steroid inhaler, these are not the same that the bodybuilders use and are called corticosteroids. These are beclometasone and budesonide and these will help with the inflammation. You may also be given antibiotics in times of acute attacks and steroid tablets may also be prescribed for a short course.

Unfortunately treatment cannot repair the damage that has already been done to your lungs, however it can keep the symptoms away and keep you out of the hospital. COPD has a variable course and some are affected much more than others. The best thing that you can do is to give up smoking and take your medications as prescribed. Keep fit and healthy and you will be rewarded with a longer and more fulfilling life.

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The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.