Newly Diagnosed With COPD? Get the FAQs

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COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a disease that develops over time and causes obstruction of the airways in your lungs as well as limits the flow of air both to and from your lungs.

Overview

There are four stages of COPD: mild, moderate, severe, and very severe. The stages of COPD define the disease according to its severity.

Staging is generally done in your doctor's office by spirometry.

COPD is not a death sentence; with proper treatment, it can be controlled. That said, there are factors that influence COPD life expectancy, namely body mass index, degree of airway obstruction, dyspnea levels, and exercise tolerance.

Some people with COPD prefer cold weather; some prefer a warmer climate. The most important thing to consider is air quality, both indoor and out, and to avoid areas that have high levels of air pollution as this may exacerbate your condition.

Another important factor to consider is altitude. Higher altitudes have less oxygen available in the air, which may increase shortness of breath in people who have COPD.

Symptoms

Symptoms of COPD include dyspnea (shortness of breath), long-term cough, increased mucus production, wheezing, fatigue, and frequent lung infections.

    Exacerbation

    Put simply, a COPD exacerbation is a period of time when your COPD symptoms worsen. A COPD exacerbation puts people with COPD at greater risk for hospitalizations and death. That is why it is vitally important to prevent an exacerbation before it occurs.

    Diagnosis

    COPD is diagnosed after your doctor completes a thorough history and physical examination and a battery of tests, including a chest X-ray, pulmonary function tests, blood tests, and sputum cultures.

    Treatment

    COPD is treated with smoking cessation, medications including bronchodilators and corticosteroids, diet and exercise, oxygen therapy (for some patients), flu and pneumonia vaccines, and lung surgery for a small percentage of patients who meet very specific criteria.

    Supplemental Oxygen

    Not everyone with COPD requires oxygen. The need for oxygen therapy is individualized and depends upon the amount of oxygen in your blood as measured by arterial blood gases and your oxygen saturation level.

    Remember, oxygen is a drug and should only be prescribed by your doctor.

    Surgery

    There are three types of surgery used to treat very severe COPD in a select group of patients: Bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery, and lung transplantation. Only a small percentage of COPD patients qualify for surgical intervention as doctors use very strict criteria to select surgical candidates. Surgical intervention does not prolong survival, but does improve quality of life.

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