Advanced Interventional Pulmonary Program
John C. Lincoln North Mountain Hospital
250 E. Dunlap Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85020
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Have you heard or seen the term "COPD" before and wondered what it means? COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is one of the primary conditions treated at John C. Lincoln's Advanced Interventional Pulmonary Program.
While COPD may sound complicated, it is straightforward in concept. The basic components of COPD are as follows:
- Chronic: A chronic disease is one that affects a patient all of the time. Symptoms do not go away. In fact, COPD is not reversible. It is a progressive disease — it worsens over time.
- Obstructive: Obstructive means that normal airflow to the passages of the lung is blocked. With COPD, lung tissue becomes hyperinflated, and airways become blocked by increased mucus production.
- Pulmonary: Pulmonary is the medical term for anything related to the lungs.
- Disease: A disease is an abnormal condition of the body.
COPD is not merely one lung disease, but a general term that describes a set of common, more widely known lung diseases that limit airflow to the lungs. The most prevalent COPD diseases are chronic obstructive bronchitis and emphysema.
It is important to remember that chronic bronchitis and emphysema are actually parts of the overall picture of COPD. Most patients diagnosed with COPD suffer from a combination of the two diseases.
COPD Symptoms and Causes
The most common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the chest and a cough that discharges mucus. Symptoms worsen over time.
Long-term exposure to tobacco is the leading cause of COPD. In fact, cigarette and pipe smoking (primary and secondhand tobacco smoke) is responsible for as much as 90 percent of COPD-related deaths. Other contributors to COPD are pollutants (toxic chemicals and dust) and genetics.
COPD develops slowly over the course of years and decades. For this reason, most patients are not diagnosed with COPD until they reach middle age.
COPD and the Body
The alveoli are found at the ends of a lung's respiratory "tree." These tiny sacs are the primary means for exchanging gas between the lungs and bloodstream.
To understand how COPD impacts the body, it's important to know how lungs function. As we inhale, air travels down the windpipe and into the airways of the lungs (called bronchial tubes). These airways form a network in the lungs that resemble the branches of an upside-down tree.
At the end of each tube are tiny air sacs called alveoli (al-vee-OH-lee), which operate like tiny balloons. As we inhale, alveoli expand, bringing oxygen to the bloodstream. As we exhale, these sacs shrink, releasing carbon dioxide.
When a patient has COPD, however, air cannot reach the alveoli in a normal manner. The tissues of the bronchial tubes and alveoli may be destroyed. COPD symptoms vary with emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- In emphysema, the tissue of the airways and alveoli begin to break down and lose their elasticity. Smaller airways lose their ability to convey air. In turn, they collapse, trapping air within the lungs. Over time, lungs become progressively larger, or hyperinflated, to as much as twice their normal size. This crowds out healthy lung tissue, expands the rib cage and pushes the diaphragm downward. As a result, breathing becomes more difficult and inefficient, leading to shortness of breath.
- In chronic obstructive bronchitis, the lungs overproduce mucus, which not only impairs lung function, but also fosters bacterial growth within the lung. Mucus and bacteria buildup often leads to a COPD "exacerbation" — a prolonged period of worsened COPD symptoms.
While no known cure exists for COPD, John C. Lincoln's Advanced Interventional Pulmonary Program is actively participating in new therapies that can help patients manage COPD symptoms.
Generally speaking, COPD treatment is tailored to each patient's medical condition, as well as the severity of symptoms.
COPD treatment often begins with medication and oxygen delivery. Some medications help to alleviate persistent shortness of breath and chronic cough. Other medications treat lung infections caused by the overproduction of mucus, which worsens COPD symptoms.
A combination of medication and lifestyle changes — starting with smoking cessation — can help patients feel better and remain active, as well as preserve the function of their lungs.