COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a chronic lung disease that causes limited air flow to the lungs, resulting in trouble breathing. Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment methodologies for COPD.

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What Are the Signs of COPD?

People with COPD usually don't experience symptoms until the lungs are already seriously damaged. The earliest sign is usually chronic bronchitis with a daily cough that does not resolve. Other symptoms include shortness of breath (especially during exertion), wheezing, chest tightness, excess mucus, blue lips or fingernails, frequent respiratory infections, and fatigue. Because COPD typically occurs after years of smoking, most people first show signs of lung disease after age 40.

Who Is at Risk for Developing COPD?

The main cause of COPD is smoking. About 25 percent of people who smoke cigarettes develop chronic lung disease, a category that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with asthma who also smoke are especially susceptible. Besides cigarette smoke, COPD can also be triggered by air pollution or workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes. Exposure to second-hand smoke is also a risk factor for COPD. In rare cases, chronic lung disease can also be caused by a genetic disorder.

How Is COPD Treated?

Because this illness is chronic, treatment focuses on managing pain and other symptoms. The most important step if you are diagnosed with COPD is to quit smoking, to help slow the progression of the disease. Your doctor will also prescribe medication to help you breathe, such as a bronchodilator, inhaled steroid or oral steroid. Antibiotics are used to help combat the chronic infections that result from COPD. For those in the later stages of the disease, oxygen therapy and/or pulmonary rehabilitation may be required. For those whose symptoms are not helped with medication and other treatments, surgery is sometimes used to remove damaged portions of the lungs. Certain people with COPD may be candidates for a lung transplant.

If you have COPD, see your doctor regularly and follow his or her instructions to help manage symptoms and avoid complications. While there is no cure for COPD, it is possible to live a healthy life with the disease.

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