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Feature:
The Challenge of COPD

What is COPD?

COPD is a serious lung disease that, over time, makes it hard to breathe. You may also have heard COPD called other names, like emphysema or chronic bronchitis. In people who have COPD, the airways—tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs—are partially blocked, which makes it hard to get air in and out. The air sacs in the lungs may also lose their elasticity and shape.
When COPD is severe, shortness of breath and other symptoms of COPD can get in the way of even the most basic tasks, such as doing light housework, taking a walk, even washing and dressing.

How Does COPD Affect Breathing?

The "airways" are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs through the nose and mouth. Healthy airways and air sacs in the lungs are elastic—they bounce back to their original shape after being stretched or filled with air, just the way a new rubber band or balloon does. This elastic quality helps retain the normal structure of the lung and helps to move the air quickly in and out.

In people with COPD, the air sacs no longer bounce back to their original shape. The airways can also become swollen or thicker than normal, and mucus production might increase. The floppy airways are blocked, or obstructed, making it even harder to get air out of the lungs.

Symptoms

Many people with COPD avoid activities that they used to enjoy because they become short of breath more easily.

Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called "smoker's cough"
  • Shortness of breath while doing activities you used to be able to do
  • Excess sputum production
  • Feeling like you can't breathe
  • Not being able to take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

When COPD is severe, shortness of breath and other symptoms can get in the way of doing even the most basic tasks, such as doing light housework, taking a walk, even bathing and getting dressed.

COPD develops slowly, and can worsen over time, so be sure to report any symptoms you might have to your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible, no matter how mild they may seem.

Read More "The Challenge of COPD" Articles

Q&A: Grace Anne Koppel, Living Well with COPD / What is COPD? / What Causes COPD? / COPD Quiz

Fall 2014 Issue: Volume 9 Number 3 Page 4