Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a chronic condition of the lungs caused by the simultaneous appearance of chronic bronchitis together with emphysema. The airways in the lungs become permanently narrowed and the surface area of the lungs is diminished. As a result, the patient has difficulty breathing and taking in enough oxygen through the lungs. It can be caused by occupational exposure to small particles, air pollution, genetic conditions, and autoimmune diseases, but by far the most common cause is smoking. COPD is almost always irreversible and generally gets worse over time. It is also very difficult to treat. It is very common, appearing in about one out of every sixty people in their lifetimes. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the world.
COPD generally requires a physician to go through a differential diagnosis to rule out other conditions that cause breathing difficulties. Typically, a patient must undergo lung function tests after a finding of a chronic cough with sputem production, shortness of breath, intense breath sounds through a stethoscope and hyperinflation. The symptoms often get worse with even mild exertion.
The first line of treatment is lifestyle changes. Patients must be removed from any environment which exacerbates their symptoms. Typically, smokers must quit and individuals working or living in areas with poor air quality must also move. Bronchodilators and steroids can make breathing easier, but often sufferers must use oxygen for relief. As influenza can be life-threatening for patients with COPD, patient's must generally receive a full course of vaccinations.