The Complete Guide to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

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COPD is a disease that damages your lungs over time. It may start with mild symptoms and then get worse. Treatment can help symptoms and slow disease progression.

What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly referred to as COPD, is a group of progressive lung diseases.

The most common of these diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Many people with COPD have both of these conditions.

Emphysema slowly destroys air sacs in your lungs, which interferes with outward air flow. Bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, which allows mucus to build up.

It’s estimated that about 30 million people in the United States have COPD. As many as half are unaware that they have it.
Untreated, COPD can lead to a faster progression of disease, heart problems, and worsening respiratory infections.

What are the symptoms of COPD?
COPD makes it harder to breathe. Symptoms may be mild at first, beginning with intermittent coughing and shortness of breath. As it progresses, symptoms can become more constant to where it can become increasingly difficult to breathe.

You may experience wheezing and tightness in the chest or have excess sputum production. Some people with COPD have acute exacerbations, which are flare-ups of severe symptoms.

Early symptoms
At first, symptoms of COPD can be quite mild. You might mistake them for a cold.

Early symptoms include:
occasional shortness of breath, especially after exercise
mild but recurrent cough
needing to clear your throat often, especially first thing in the morning
You might start making subtle changes, such as avoiding stairs and skipping physical activities.

Worsening symptoms
Symptoms can get progressively worse and harder to ignore. As the lungs become more damaged, you may experience:

shortness of breath, after even mild forms of exercise like walking up a flight of stairs
wheezing, which is a type of higher-pitched noisy breathing, especially during exhalations
chest tightness
chronic cough, with or without mucus
need to clear mucus from your lungs every day
frequent colds, flu, or other respiratory infections
lack of energy
In later stages of COPD, symptoms may also include:

fatigue
swelling of the feet, ankles, or legs
weight loss

Symptoms are likely to be much worse if you currently smoke or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke

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