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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

A type of lung disease marked by permanent damage to tissues in the lungs, making it hard to breathe. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease includes chronic bronchitis, in which the bronchi (large air passages) are inflamed and scarred, and emphysema, in which the alveoli (tiny air sacs) are damaged. It develops over many years and is usually caused by cigarette smoking. Also called COPD.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

COPD

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary (PULL-mun-ary) disease, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. "Progressive" means the disease gets worse over time.

COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus (a slimy substance), wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants - such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust - also may contribute to COPD.

Overview

To understand COPD, it helps to understand how the lungs work. The air that you breathe goes down your windpipe into tubes in your lungs called bronchial (BRONG-ke-al) tubes or airways.

Within the lungs, your bronchial tubes branch into thousands of smaller, thinner tubes called bronchioles (BRONG-ke-ols). These tubes end in bunches of tiny round air... Read more about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Oxygen therapy in the pre‐hospital setting for acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

People with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are prone to sudden episodes where their symptoms become worse and oxygen levels may fall. Initial treatment during these episodes usually includes oxygen, but this may cause a rise in the carbon dioxide levels that can be dangerous. This review could not find any evidence to indicate the safest way to provide oxygen treatment in this circumstance.

Inhaled corticosteroid effects on bone metabolism in asthma and mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Usual doses of corticosteroids for two or three years for asthma does not weaken bones in younger patients, although long term outcomes and after high doses need more research.

Doxapram for ventilatory failure due to exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Some people with advanced COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) experience respiratory failure whereby blood oxygen levels fall and high levels of the waste gas carbon dioxide accumulate and cause worsening symptoms. In extreme cases this disturbance in the blood can cause coma and death. When respiratory failure is severe giving oxygen alone is no longer enough because an increase in carbon dioxide levels can make the situation worse by depressing the drive to breathe. Doxapram is a drug that may stimulate breathing. The review of trials found that it may be able to help, but some newer treatments may be more effective. Doxapram may be worthwhile as a short‐term measure or when other treatments are not possible.

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Summaries for consumers

Oxygen therapy in the pre‐hospital setting for acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

People with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are prone to sudden episodes where their symptoms become worse and oxygen levels may fall. Initial treatment during these episodes usually includes oxygen, but this may cause a rise in the carbon dioxide levels that can be dangerous. This review could not find any evidence to indicate the safest way to provide oxygen treatment in this circumstance.

Inhaled corticosteroid effects on bone metabolism in asthma and mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Usual doses of corticosteroids for two or three years for asthma does not weaken bones in younger patients, although long term outcomes and after high doses need more research.

Doxapram for ventilatory failure due to exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Some people with advanced COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) experience respiratory failure whereby blood oxygen levels fall and high levels of the waste gas carbon dioxide accumulate and cause worsening symptoms. In extreme cases this disturbance in the blood can cause coma and death. When respiratory failure is severe giving oxygen alone is no longer enough because an increase in carbon dioxide levels can make the situation worse by depressing the drive to breathe. Doxapram is a drug that may stimulate breathing. The review of trials found that it may be able to help, but some newer treatments may be more effective. Doxapram may be worthwhile as a short‐term measure or when other treatments are not possible.

See all (98)

Terms to know

Alveoli
Tiny air sacs at the end of the bronchioles (tiny branches of air tubes) in the lungs. The alveoli are where the lungs and the bloodstream exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen. Carbon dioxide in the blood passes into the lungs through the alveoli. Oxygen in the lungs passes through the alveoli into the blood.
Bronchi
The large air passages that lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs.
Bronchioles
A tiny branch of air tubes in the lungs.
Chronic
Refers to disorders that last a long time, often years. Chronic is the opposite of acute, or brief.
Cough: Symptom
A cough is a natural reflex that protects your lungs. Coughing helps clear your airways of lung irritants, such as smoke and mucus (a slimy substance).
Lungs
One of a pair of organs in the chest that supplies the body with oxygen, and removes carbon dioxide from the body.
Pulmonary
Having to do with the lungs.

More about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Photo of an adult

Also called: Chronic obstructive airway disease, Chronic obstructive lung disease, Chronic airflow limitation, Chronic airway obstruction, Chronic airway disease, Chronic irreversible airway obstruction, COAD, CAL, CAFL

See Also: Bronchitis, Emphysema of the Lung

Other terms to know: See all 7
Alveoli, Bronchi, Bronchioles

Related articles:
How the Lungs Work

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