Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of persistent inflammatory lung diseases that include chronic emphysema and chronic bronchitis. This group of diseases can restrict airflow to the lungs and increase breathlessness. Most of the time, COPD affects people over the age of 40 and is caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke. Over time COPD damages the lungs and heart and can cause a variety of issues such as lung cancer and heart failure. There is no cure for COPD. If you believe you have COPD it is important to get treatment as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Here we offer some tips to help you manage COPD and to improve your quality of life.

What are the primary causes of COPD?

Causes of COPD include but are not limited to:

Cigarette smoke:

Around 80% of people have COPD as a result of cigarette smoking. People who smoke other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes are also at risk. This also does not exclude people who have been victims of secondhand smoke.

Air Pollution:

Living in an area with high air pollution or working at a job where you are exposed to toxic fumes or substances can cause COPD. Being exposed to air pollution is estimated to contribute to millions of heart attacks and deaths around the world. Usually the most vulnerable are the young and the old.

Untreated asthma:

Although asthma does not fall under the category of COPD, sometimes untreated asthma can damage the lungs and eventually lead to COPD. People who are asthmatic are as much as 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with COPD.

AAT deficiency:

Some people with COPD have a defect called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, or AAT deficiency. AAT is a protein made in the liver that protects the lungs from damage. People with AAT deficiency do not produce enough alpha-1 protein to safeguard their lungs. Adults with extreme AAT deficiency often develop emphysema at an early age.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

It is very possible to have more than one symptom. Symptoms of COPD include but are not limited to:

A persistent cough:

People with COPD often have a chronic cough that produces moderate to substantial amounts of mucus. A persistent cough is a cough that lasts longer than two months.


Dyspnea is a shortness of breath, sometimes described as difficulty breathing, breathlessness or an intense tightening in the chest.


COPD can cause narrowing and spasms in your lungs. This produces a whistling sound when you attempt to breathe.

Blue fingertips or lips:

Blue fingertips or lips are a result of a lack of oxygen-rich blood.


Edema is an accumulation of fluid in your body's tissues. This often causes your legs, arms, and ankles to swell. This condition is more common with older adults.

Excessive mucus:

People with COPD often have an overabundance of goblet cells. Goblet cells produce mucus and having an overabundance causes an excessive amount of mucus to be produced. This is usually a result of smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products.

What happens if COPD is left untreated?

COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and around the world. If left untreated, it can eventually lead to life-threating conditions such as:

Heart failure:

Heart failure is common among people with COPD. COPD causes the lungs to work incorrectly, this lowers the oxygen levels in the body and as a result, heart failure often happens due to excessive stress on the heart.

Lung cancer:

Patients with COPD are much more likely to develop lung cancer. There is evidence that chronic inflammation of the lungs can damage lung cells and cause them to mutate. This can sometimes lead to them becoming cancerous.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome:

ARDS or acute respiratory distress syndrome can be life-threatening and causes patients to have severe shortness of breath. Often seen in intensive care units, ARDS is caused when injured blood vessels leak fluid into the lung sacs. This can cause the lungs to collapse.

Frequent colds and respiratory infections:

Because people with COPD have weakened lungs, this puts them at risk for frequent colds and respiratory infections. If left untreated, respiratory infections can cause more damage to the lungs.

What are some tips to help manage COPD?

Your quality of life can potentially improve if you:

Quit smoking as soon as possible:

Easier said than done, If you are a smoker, this is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and treat COPD. If you think about it, the average smoker who can afford cigarettes smokes around 10-20 cigarettes a day. This is not only expensive but one of the most damaging things you can do to your body. As with many addictions, the most difficult part is taking the initiative and determining that the negatives outweigh the positives by far. After you have been off of nicotine for 3 months your brain chemistry will be back to normal and you will no longer have the same cravings that you used to. There are many helpful techniques to help you quit, talk to a physician and determine what is best for you.

Get on medication:

There is no cure for COPD however, medication can help increase your quality of life. For people with mild COPD, a physician might prescribe a nebulizer or inhaler for use with a bronchodilator or a corticosteroid. Bronchodilators and corticosteroids both attempt to make breathing easier by opening your airways, reducing irritation, swelling, and mucus production. There is also a corticosteroid called prednisolone which comes in liquid form, pill form, or a shot. Usually, it is only given in emergency situations. A physician might initiate a trial in patients to decide whether they respond to steroids, this trial usually lasts a few weeks.


Exercise is great for the heart and lungs and can help to make them stronger. There are many good exercises that can help with COPD such as walking, biking or swimming. Depending on how bad your condition is, your doctor might suggest exercising with oxygen therapy or EWOT. A good exercise goal is to try to be active for around 30 minutes three times a week.

Get a pulse oximeter:

Pulse oximeters are small, non-invasive sensors that measure blood oxygen saturation. Pulse oximeters can alert you if your blood oxygen levels are too low. At Sensoronics, we offer a small FDA approved digital pulse oximeter to help you manage your COPD here.

Talk to your doctor about surgery:

In some cases, depending on how bad your COPD is, you might need to consider talking to your doctor about surgery. There are three main types of surgery, this includes LVRS, or lung volume reduction, a bullectomy, or in extreme cases a lung transplant.

Living a normal life with COPD

Although COPD is a permanent disease, it can be managed and most patients can live a normal life. If you are able to deal with your symptoms through medication and actively work on improving your life through exercise, diet, and refraining from smoking, it is possible to have relief from symptoms.


This article does not intend to provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment recommended by a doctor. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read here. If you think you are having a medical emergency, immediately call 911.