What to Know About COPD

Early diagnosis and treatment means better health

Man with inhaler

Nearly 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Many others may have COPD that has not been diagnosed yet. The good news is symptoms can be managed if found early. Here are COPD basics to know.

Causes: The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Cigarette smoke weakens the lungs and shrinks the air passages. Breathing in secondhand smoke, dust, air pollution, and chemical fumes can also lead to COPD.

Testing: There’s a simple, painless test for COPD called a spirometry test. It measures how much air your lungs can hold, and how fast you can blow air out. People with COPD usually take this test twice a year to see how well their treatment is working.

Symptoms: Signs of COPD can vary. Here are the most common symptoms:

  • Coughing that won’t go away
  • Respiratory infections such as bronchitis
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest or lungs
  • Feeling tired after everyday activities

Don’t wait until symptoms are severe. If you think you might have COPD, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Treatment: Your doctor may prescribe medicines to relax your airways to ease breathing or suggest using oxygen. Your doctor may also recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program. This involves education and exercises to help you live well with COPD. Nothing can repair lung damage, but a COPD treatment plan can help prevent symptoms from flaring up.