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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a progressive (i.e. gets worse with time), chronic, inflammatory lung disease obstructing air-flow to the lungs, mainly caused by breathing pollutants.

To help understand what is going on with COPD, first please see  brief description of how the lungs work:

The lungs 101

Causes of COPD

COPD damage reduces the natural elasticity of the alveoli (air sacs) and bronchial tubes.   Elasticity is required to force out air/carbon dioxide for exhalation. As a  consequence, unexpelled air is trapped in the lungs, which makes it difficult for the air sacs to deflate and bring in new air


COPD describes several progressive lung diseases characterized by shortness of breath.  Includes:

✔  CHRONIC bronchitis.   The constant irritation/inflammation of the MUCUS MEMBRANE LINING (epithelium) of the bronchial airways (bronchi/bronchioles, which carry air to and from the alveoli of the lungs), causes it to swell and produce mucus, which narrows the airways, making it harder to breathe; a cough ensues to try and clear the mucus.

FYI - Mucus membranes also line the sinuses, GI and urinary tracts

✔  Emphysema.   Breakdown of the elastin of lung connective tissues weakens/damages the thin walls and fibers of the alveoli (air sacs) at the end of the smallest bronchial airways (bronchioles); the alveoli walls eventually break down, producing less, but larger air spaces instead of many small ones, and so reducing the surface area available for gas exchange; 

✔  Non-reversible asthma

✔  Some forms of bronchietasis

COPD Symptoms

COPD is the THIRD leading cause of death in the U.S. affecting ~30 million Americans.   Of those, >50% are unaware they have it

COPD progression causes loss of lung function.     Can increase risk for:

✔  Respiratory infections.    E.g. flu, colds, pneumonia - making it even more difficult to breathe

✔  Lung cancer 

✔  Pulmonary hypertension.    High blood pressure in arteries delivering blood to lung 

✔  Heart disease.    Reason not well understood


A breathing test, called spirometry, measures the amount of air blown out of the lungs in how long.    This simple test can detect COPD ahead of symptoms

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