• COPD

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties.

    Overview

    COPD includes:

    • emphysema – damage to the air sacs in the lungs
    • chronic bronchitis – long-term inflammation of the airways

    COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people do not realise they have it.

    The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit your normal activities, although treatment can help keep the condition under control.

    Symptoms of COPD

    The main symptoms of COPD are:

    • increasing breathlessness, particularly when you're active
    • a persistent chesty cough with phlegm – some people may dismiss this as just a "smoker's cough"
    • frequent chest infections
    • persistent wheezing

    Without treatment, the symptoms usually get progressively worse. There may also be periods when they get suddenly worse, known as a flare-up or exacerbation

    When to get medical advice

    See a doctor if you have persistent symptoms of COPD, particularly if you're over 35 and smoke or used to smoke. Do not ignore the symptoms. If they're caused by COPD, it's best to start treatment as soon as possible, before your lungs become significantly damaged. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and whether you smoke or have smoked in the past. Your doctor can organise a breathing test to help diagnose COPD and rule out other lung conditions, such as asthma.

    Causes of COPD

    COPD happens when the lungs become inflamed, damaged and narrowed. The main cause is smoking, although the condition can sometimes affect people who have never smoked. The likelihood of developing COPD increases the more you smoke and the longer you've smoked. Some cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust. Others are the result of a rare genetic problem which means the lungs are more vulnerable to damage.

    Treatments for COPD

    The damage to the lungs caused by COPD is permanent, but treatment can help slow down the progression of the condition.

    Treatments include:

    • stopping smoking – if you have COPD and you smoke, this is the most important thing you can do
    • inhalers and medicines – to help make breathing easier
    • pulmonary rehabilitation – a specialised programme of exercise and education
    • surgery or a lung transplant – although this is only an option for a very small number of people

    Outlook for COPD

    The outlook for COPD varies from person to person. The condition cannot be cured or reversed, but for many people, treatment can help keep it under control so it does not severely limit their daily activities. But in some people, COPD may continue to get worse despite treatment, eventually having a significant impact on their quality of life and leading to life-threatening problems.

     

    COPD is largely a preventable condition. You can significantly reduce your chances of developing it if you avoid smoking. If you already smoke, stopping can help prevent further damage to your lungs before it starts to cause troublesome symptoms.