Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - Treatments, Diagnosis, Risks | MedStar Health
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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, is one of the most common lung diseases.

It is a common, preventable, and treatable disease, and characterized by persistent and progressive airflow limitation due to inflammation in the airways. While there is no cure for COPD, our physicians can help diagnose patients, prescribe medications to manage symptoms, and teach necessary lifestyle changes to avoid flare-ups.

There are two main forms of COPD:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus
  • Emphysema, which involves damage to the lungs over time

Most people with this condition have a combination of both conditions.

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While there is no cure for COPD, our physicians can help diagnosis the disease, prescribe medications to manage symptoms, and teach necessary lifestyle changes to keep symptoms under control.

People diagnosed with this condition should quit smoking if they haven’t already to slow damage to the lungs. People with COPD can experience COPD exacerbation, where symptoms flare up, ranging from mild to life-threatening. The longer a person has had the disease, the more severe the exacerbation will be.

Our physicians may prescribe medicines, including:

  • Inhalers (bronchodilators) to help open the airways
  • Inhaled or oral steroids to reduce lung inflammation
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the airways
  • Antibiotics during symptom flare-ups

Lifestyle changes, such as air filters, regular exercise, and eating a balanced diet, can help people living with COPD maintain their strength and keep symptoms at bay to avoid an exacerbation.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help teach patients different techniques for breathing. Nutritionists can help teach patients necessary diet changes to combat excessive weight loss and maintain energy levels.

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop the disease.

In rare cases, nonsmokers can develop emphysema.

Other risk factors are:

  • Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of second-hand smoke and pollution
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath

As the disease progresses, you may be out of breath when doing simple everyday activities. As breathing becomes more difficult, many people lose weight and energy.

To accurately test for COPD, doctors will perform a lung function test to test lung capacity. The results can be checked right away.

Some patients may need to have an arterial blood gas test to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. X-rays and other imaging tests may be needed to rule out other conditions that could be causing symptoms.

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See COPD educational materials from the COPD Foundation