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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): All You Need to Know

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, refers to a group of chronic inflammatory lung diseases that obstruct airflow from the lungs.

A diagnosis of COPD means you have a lung-damaging disease that causes symptoms including breathing difficulty, wheezing, coughing, and mucus production.

Long-term exposure to toxic fumes, most often from cigarette smoke, is a common cause of COPD. People with COPD are also more likely to develop lung cancer, heart disease, and other related conditions than those who don't have this condition. The condition often progresses gradually, making breathing harder as it becomes more severe with time.




Types of COPD 

Two conditions that most commonly contribute to COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These conditions often occur together in some individuals. 

  • Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a medical condition in which the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed. Bronchial tubes carry air to and from the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs, and this condition makes it harder for air to get into and out of your lungs.

Chronic bronchitis is characterised by frequent coughing and mucus production. 

  • Emphysema

Emphysema is a medical condition resulting from the breakdown of the alveoli at the end of the smallest air passages of the lungs. This damage is often caused by exposure to toxic gases and cigarette smoke.

Once the air sacs are damaged by emphysema, it becomes very difficult to get a full breath. People with emphysema are also likely to have chronic bronchitis. 

What are the Symptoms of COPD?

COPD is a progressive disease, and the symptoms often take time to manifest. Sometimes the symptoms don’t start appearing until considerable damage has been caused to the lungs.

Some common symptoms to watch out for are:

If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, do inform your healthcare provider so that timely treatment can be started. The symptoms of COPD get more severe with time.

What Causes COPD?

The leading cause of COPD in the developed world is tobacco smoking, which causes up to 90% of COPD cases. In developing countries, poorly ventilated homes and exposure to burning fuel for cooking causes many cases of COPD. People with other lung conditions and reduced lung function are often misdiagnosed as having COPD.  

Major causes of COPD:

  • Tobacco smoking

  • Exposure to second-hand smoke

  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency, a genetic disorder

  • Air pollution

  • Workplace dust and fumes

  • Fumes from burning fuel

How is COPD Diagnosed?

To diagnose COPD, your doctor will perform a physical examination, examine your medical history, and conduct a few tests. 

  • Physical Examination

Your doctor will do a physical examination that includes examining your heart and lungs, measuring your blood pressure, examining your throat and nose, and looking for swelling in your feet and ankles.   

  • Pulse Oximetry

This is a non-invasive test used to measure the blood's oxygen level (oxygen saturation). It is an easy and painless test.

  • Arterial Blood Gases (ABGs)

This is a blood test that measures the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. A sample is taken from an artery in your body to conduct it.

  • Spirometry

This is a common pulmonary function test to check how well your lungs work. Spirometry measures how much air you inhale and exhale and how quickly.

  • Chest X-Ray or Chest CT Scan

Your doctor may recommend these tests to look for damage caused by COPD. A chest CT scan is generally considered more effective than a chest X-ray.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

This test records the electrical signal from the heart and checks for different heart conditions. Some heart diseases may cause shortness of breath; this test helps rule them out.  

  • Exercise Testing

This test is used to determine if the oxygen level in a person’s blood drops when they exercise.

How is COPD Treated?

While there is no known cure for COPD, the disease can be managed effectively with a few treatment options. The treatment options for each individual may differ according to the severity of the condition.

The following are the common treatments used to manage COPD:

  • Inhalers

If you are having difficulty breathing, your doctor might give you an inhaler, a device that delivers medicine directly into the lungs to ease breathing. Inhalers may be short-acting or long-acting.

  • Tablets

People with COPD may be prescribed theophylline tablets, mucolytics, antibiotics, or steroid tablets to help manage their COPD symptoms. While tablets are quite effective, some may lead to unpleasant side effects.

  • Nebulised Medicine

If inhalers and tablets do not provide much relief, your doctor may suggest nebulised medicine. This procedure enables a large dosage of medicine to be delivered in one go. 

  • Roflumilast

Roflumilast is a new medicine for COPD. It is mainly used to treat more severe cases that lead to flare-ups. The medicine helps reduce inflammation inside the airways in the lungs. However, it can lead to some bad side effects. 

  • Long-Term Oxygen Therapy

Those with severe COPD may be advised to have long-term oxygen therapy at home through nasal tubes or a mask.

Oxygen therapy can prevent the oxygen level in your blood from becoming dangerously low. This therapy needs to be used for at least 16 hours daily. 

  • Surgery

Surgery for COPD is recommended only for a few people whose symptoms are not manageable by inhalers and medicines. COPD surgeries are invasive and are performed under general anaesthesia.

In Conclusion

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a health condition that requires active monitoring by an experienced doctor and consistent medical care.

The good news is that the disease is treatable in its early stages and can be managed effectively with proper medical care.

Caring for someone with COPD can get expensive in the long run. Being unprepared to face the necessary medical procedures can prove to be disastrous. This is why investing in a comprehensive health insurance plan is important. Health insurance plans reimburse the medical expenses for hospital stays, treatments, and surgeries or give the insured person a certain predetermined amount.

You will also get coverage for any future medical expenses. Check out ACKO’s health plans for a hassle-free insurance experience.

Frequently Asked Questions



What is the main cause of COPD?

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. Around 9 in every 10 cases of COPD are believed to be caused by smoking.

Is COPD curable?

There is currently no cure for COPD, but the progression of the condition can be slowed down with treatment.

Is walking good for those with COPD?

Yes, walking is a safe and effective exercise for people with COPD.

Can I live a normal life with COPD?

With a good diet and the right medical care, you can live a normal life with COPD. 

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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