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FAQs about living with COPD

After a diagnosis of COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a person will have many questions about the condition, how it will be treated and the effect on their life.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about COPD.

What happens to my lungs if I have COPD?

Tubes, called airways, carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have COPD, these airways may become partly blocked from inflammation and thickening. This makes it more difficult to breathe.

At the end of the airways are many tiny balloon-like air sacs, which inflate and deflate when you breathe in and out. It is through the thin walls of these sacs that oxygen passes into your blood (where it is carried by haemoglobin), and carbon dioxide is transferred from your blood into the air you breath out. With COPD, these air sacs lose their elasticity. This can make it more difficult for you to get air in and out of your lungs, to oxygenate your blood properly, and get rid of carbon dioxide.

What causes COPD?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Being around second-hand smoke also plays a role in an individual developing COPD.

Other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to other irritants, such as:

  • Chemicals
  • Dust
  • Air pollution

In rare cases, genes may play a role in COPD. People who lack a protein called alpha 1 antitrypsin may be more likely to develop the disease. Without this protein, their lungs are more vulnerable to destruction from COPD. If they are smokers, their disease tends to progress more quickly.

Repeated lung infections may also contribute to COPD or make it become worse more quickly.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

These are the most common COPD symptoms:

  • A cough that doesn't go away
  • Coughing up a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially while exercising
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Limitations in activity

What are the treatments for COPD?

The goal of COPD treatment is to ease your symptoms, slow the progress of COPD, prevent or treat any complications, and improve your overall quality of life.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 05, 2014

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