Medical Q&As

COPD - what is it?

I have been told recently that I have chronic obstructive airways disease. Can you explain the condition to me and tell me what the treatment consists of?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is also known as COAD (chronic obstructive airways disease). It is a chronic disease of the lungs that is characterised by an obstruction to airflow within the lungs. The term refers to emphysema and chronic bronchitis both of which can co-exist in the same person. The term excludes other obstructive diseases such as asthma. Chronic bronchitis means that the bronchi or breathing tubes have been inflamed over an extended period of time, which eventually leads to scarring of the tubes. The term emphysema means that the elasticity of the lung tissue is lost resulting in the trapping of air in the alveoli or tiny air sacs. Emphysematous lungs often appear to be over-inflated on a standard chest X ray film. It is estimated that between 80 to 90% of all cases of COPD are due to cigarette smoking, which means that we would observe a significant reduction in this chronic disease if the incidence of smoking were reduced. The symptoms of chronic bronchitis include chronic cough, mucous production and shortness of breath. Emphysema symptoms include cough and shortness of breath, especially on mild exertion. Lung function in COPD sufferers is usually assessed with pulmonary function tests, which involves breathing into a special apparatus that measures various parameters such as the volume of air breathed over the course of one minute and the volume of air breathed in with each individual inspiration. Treatment of COPD is dictated by the severity of the disease. Some people may benefit from inhalers and physiotherapy whereas others may be so incapacitated that they require home oxygen. A further minority with advanced emphysema may require lung transplantation but that option would only be considered for individuals who are otherwise medically fit. The principle message that needs to be given is that COPD is for most people a preventable condition and it could be virtually eliminated if people didnít smoke.