Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Tobacco

People with COPD have airways that are narrowed and blocked due to damage. More than 95 percent of COPD cases are caused by smoking cigarettes.

COPD involves two chronic lung diseases:

  • Chronic bronchitis: In chronic bronchitis, there is a long lasting cough and mucus production. The airways in the lungs become swollen and produce more mucus.
  • Emphysema: In emphysema, there is damage to the walls of the air sacs or alveoli in the lungs. This results in a smaller total number of air sacs. Fewer air sacs means that the lungs are not able to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream as well. Also the lungs may not be able to get rid of carbon dioxide as well. The damaged lungs lose their stretchiness or elasticity.
Early Warning Signs

Early symptoms or warning signs of COPD are unique to each person, and may be the same, similar or different with each episode in the same person. Usually, you will be the best person to know if you are having trouble breathing. However, some changes are more likely to be noticed by other people. It is important to share this information with your family and those close to you, since a change or increase in the symptoms you have may be the only early warning sign. You may notice one or more of the following:

  • An increase in the amount of sputum produced
  • An increase in the thickness or stickiness of sputum
  • A change in sputum color to yellow or green or the presence of blood in the sputum
  • An increase in the severity of shortness of breath, cough and/or wheezing
  • A general feeling of ill health
  • Ankle swelling
  • Forgetfulness, confusion, slurring of speech and sleepiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Using more pillows or sleeping in a chair instead of a bed to avoid shortness of breath
  • An unexplained increase or decrease in weight
  • Increased feeling of fatigue and lack of energy that is persistent
  • A lack of sexual drive
  • Increasing morning headaches, dizzy spells, restlessness

Treatment

Giving up smoking is the single most important thing you can do to help control your disease and prevent further damage to your lungs.

Other treatments to improve COPD are:

  • Follow the medications and suggestions your doctor gives you
  • Avoid other infections
  • Start exercising
  • Use of oxygen therapy

You can learn more about COPD and associated conditions at National Jewish Health®.

Reference

National Jewish Health. Health Information: Conditions: COPD Available from: http://www.njhealth.org/healthinfo/conditions/copd/index.aspx