• Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease



    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease. COPD makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. It will make breathing difficult. COPD includes:
    The changes to lung tissue differ with the two diseases. However, they often occur together. The causes and treatment of each condition are similar.
    Normal and Emphysemic Lung
    Normal Lung and Emphysemic Lung
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    COPD is caused by damage to the lungs. This damage is caused by:
    • Cigarette smoking
    • Inhaling toxins or other irritants
    • Genetic predisposition that makes the lungs more vulnerable to damage from smoke or pollutants—includes alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency

    Risk Factors

    COPD is more common in adults who are older than 40 years old.
    Factors that increase your chance of developing COPD include:
    • Smoking cigarettes
    • Long-term exposure to secondhand or passive smoke (in any form)
    • Family members with COPD
    • Exposure to pollutants
    • History of frequent childhood lung infections
    • Smoking unusual forms of tobacco, such as Chinese waterpipes


    Early symptoms of COPD include:
    • Coughing
    • Increased sputum production—mucus from deep in the lungs
    • Wheezing
    • Shortness of breath with activity
    As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
    • Increased shortness of breath
    • Choking sensation when lying flat
    • Fatigue
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Weight loss
    • Breathing through pursed lips
    • Desire to lean forward to improve breathing
    • Periods of more severe symptoms


    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    Your doctor will need to test how impaired your lungs are. This may be done with:
    • Lung function tests (spirometry)—to test the force of your breath
    • Blood test—to test oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood
    Your doctor may also need detailed pictures of your lungs. This may be done with:


    There is no cure for COPD. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
    Treatment includes:

    Smoking Cessation

    Quitting smoking slows the disease. It is the most important part of treatment. There are many programs to help you quit, including:
    • Behavior change program
    • Medication
    • Combination of behavior program and medication

    Environmental Management

    Limit the number of irritants in the air you breathe. It may help make breathing easier. Avoid smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes.


    Medication for COPD may help by:
    • Opening the airways
    • Relaxing the breathing passages
    • Decreasing inflammation
    • Treating lung infections (antibiotics)
    Some medication may be taken as pills or liquids. Others are inhaled medications that are delivered directly to the lungs.


    The flu and pneumonia can make your symptoms worse. Get vaccinated against pneumonia and the flu . The flu vaccine may also reduce COPD flare-ups.


    Oxygen therapy may be helpful if the oxygen levels in your blood are too low. It can relieve trouble breathing and improve energy. You may only need it for specific activities. It could also be given throughout the day.


    Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles. This can make it easier to breathe.
    Regular physical activity can reduce the workload on your lungs. It helps build up endurance. Physical activity is also associated with improved quality of life. Follow your doctor's recommendations for activity levels and restrictions.

    Breathing and Coughing Techniques

    Special methods of breathing can help bring more air into your lungs. It can also help force trapped air out of your lungs. Effective coughing techniques can help clear mucus from your lungs. Ask your doctor if these techniques can help you. Some examples include:
    • Pursed-lip breathing
    • Controlled coughing technique


    Eating habits to consider with COPD:
    • Eat a healthy diet. It should be low in saturated fat. It should also be rich in fruits, vegetables , and whole grain foods.
    • Maintain a normal weight. Excess weight causes the lungs and heart to work harder.
    • It may be hard to eat because you feel full. Try eating several smaller meals during the day. This is better than a few large meals.
    • Slow down your eating pace. This will make it easier to breathe.
    • If you need to gain weight, add food or drinks throughout the day. Talk to a dietitian about how many calories you need each day.

    Lifestyle Changes

    The following may help you manage COPD symptoms and avoid flare-ups:
    • Pace your activities.
    • Learn relaxation techniques and other methods to manage stress.
    • Seek emotional support from professionals, family, and friends. Anxiety can increase the rate of respiration. This makes breathing more strenuous.


    A small number of patients may benefit from surgery. Surgery options include removing a part of the lung. You could also have a lung transplant.


    Take these steps to reduce your chance of developing COPD:
    • If you smoke, quit.
    • Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
    • Avoid exposure to air pollution or irritants.
    • Wear protective gear if exposed to irritants or toxins at work.


    American Lung Association http://www.lung.org

    National Lung Health Education Program http://www.nlhep.org


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    The Lung Association http://www.lung.ca


    COPD. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD. Updated August 28, 2016. Accessed February 22, 2017.

    Eisner MD, Balmes J, et al. Lifetime environmental tobacco smoke exposure and the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source. 2005;4:7.

    Spirometry. National Lung Health Education Program website. Available at: http://www.nlhep.org/Pages/Spirometry.aspx. Accessed September 15, 2015.

    What is COPD? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd. Updated May 22, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2015.

    Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 2017. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease website. Available at: http://goldcopd.org/. Published January 2017. Accessed February 22, 2017.

    6/4/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD: El Moussaoui R, Roede BM, et al. Abstract Short-course antibiotic treatment in acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis and COPD: a meta-analysis of double-blind studies. Thorax. 2008;63:415-422.

    11/6/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Availalbe at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD: Poole P, Chacko E, et al. Influenza vaccine for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(4):CD002733.

    12/14/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD: Donesky-Cuenco D, Nguyen HQ, et al. Yoga therapy decreases dyspnea-related distress and improves functional performance in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15:225-234.

    11/7/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD: Dhe J, Yang Y, et al. Chinese water-pipe smoking and the risk of COPD. 2014;146(4):924-931.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.