What you need to know about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — also known as COPD — can be confusing and overwhelming. Understanding the basics about COPD can allay fears and help you manage your health care efficiently and effectively. Know all the answers to the question, “What is COPD?”, take charge of your health and live your best life.
COPD definition. This chronic pulmonary disease is progressive. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, this means the condition gets worse over time. COPD causes trouble breathing or difficulty in breathing normally. COPD also can result in mucus over-production. Smoking, poor air quality, pollution, exposure to lung irritants like chemicals, dust and other particulate matter may all be a factor in developing COPD. Most people with COPD have smoked or are current smokers.
Normal operation of lungs. As you inhale, air passes through the windpipe into the bronchial tubes. Like the branches of a tree, the bronchial tubes split off into smaller thinner tubes known as bronchioles, finally terminating with little round air sacs called alveoli. The alveoli are full of capillaries that extract oxygen out of the flow of air and deliver it to the bloodstream. Leftover waste (carbon dioxide) from the oxygenating process is sent from the capillaries to the air sacs. The system of airways and branches are normally stretchy and fill and empty like a balloon.
Operation of the lungs in people with COPD. The normal process of the airways is affected by COPD. The airways are less elastic. The walls between air sacs are damaged or destroyed. Inflammation and thickening occur within the walls of the airways, and the mucus production is profuse and clogs the airways. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are forms of COPD. Many people with COPD have both conditions.