Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a combination of two diseases; chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is a disease that occurs when there is inflammation of the airways causing an increase in mucus production. This effect causes a chronic cough often times lasting for several months each year. Emphysema is a disease that effects the lung tissue (alveoli and bronchial tubes) causing the lungs to become weak and lose elasticity thus reducing their function.

What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chronic cough
  • Increase Mucous production
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

Often times, people think their shortness of breath is due to “old age” when in fact it is caused by COPD. People can have exacerbations (flare ups) of their COPD which cause worsening shortness of breath and trouble breathing, thick colored sputum production and severe cough. When this happens, it is important for patients to be seen in the COPD clinic so they can be treated correctly. If left untreated, this could lead to prolonged hospitalization and in some cases could become life threatening.

What are the risk factors?

  • Smoking
  • Second Hand Smoke
  • Occupation exposure to dust and chemicals

The most common risk factor associated with COPD is smoking. Cigarette smoking and second hand smoke are the most common causes of COPD. Often times, people who smoke develop a chronic cough which they refer to as “smoker’s cough” when most likely this is undiagnosed COPD. It is important that people who are actively smoking, have a history of smoking or have been exposed to second hand smoke should be screened for COPD. More than 24 million people in the US have COPD and many people go undiagnosed for years until their lung function is significantly reduced. Women are much more likely to develop COPD as compared to men.

How is it diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed by pulmonary function tests (PFTS). It is a simple breathing test that can be performed at each of our offices to diagnosis COPD. PFTs measure the amount of lung function of each individual person accounting for age, sex, height and weight. COPD is categorized into stages from mild to very severe. COPD can also cause changes in the lung tissue commonly seen on a CXR or CT scan of the chest.

What is the Treatment?

  • Inhalers/Medications
  • Oxygen
  • Steroids and Antibiotics during acute exacerbations of COPD
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Infection Prevention (Vaccines)

The most common treatment for COPD is inhalers. The severity of an individual’s COPD will determine the type of inhalers. As the disease worsens in severity, it is common for people to need oxygen to help them breathe. At Piedmont Physicians Georgia Lung, we check each patient’s oxygen levels on a regular basis and if a patient needs oxygen we arrange for it to be set up at their home. Piedmont Physicians Georgia Lung also has a pulmonary rehabilitation center at both the Austell and Marietta offices which focuses on improving patients’ breathing and overall quality of life.

Why does it matter?

If you are diagnosed with COPD, it is important that you are followed by a pulmonologist who can continue to monitor your lung function and place you on the appropriate medications. By being on the correct treatment plan it will improve the patients’ symptoms, increase their ability to stay active, slow down the progression of the disease and prevent/treat acute exacerbations.