COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It refers to two long-term lung diseases — chronic bronchitis and emphysema — that often occur together. COPD makes it difficult for you to breathe. There is no cure for COPD, but you can take steps to manage the disease.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with COPD, you probably have many questions. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about living with COPD — its symptoms, treatment, and causes.

1. What Happens to My Lungs if I Have COPD?

Tubes, called airways, carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have COPD, these airways may become partly blocked from swelling or mucus. This makes it more difficult to breathe.

At the end of the airways are many tiny balloon-like air sacs, which inflate and deflate when you breathe in and out. With COPD, these air sacs lose their elasticity. This can lead to the collapse of small airways and also make it more difficult for you to breathe.

2. What Causes COPD?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Being around other smokers also plays a role in an individual developing COPD.

Other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to other irritants, such as:

• Chemicals

• Dust

• Air pollution

In rare cases, genes may play a role in COPD. People who lack a protein called alpha 1 antitrypsin may be more likely to develop the disease. Without the protein, their lungs are more vulnerable to developing COPD. If they are smokers, their disease tends to progress more quickly.

3. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?

These are the most common COPD symptoms:

• A cough that doesn’t go away

• Coughing up lots of mucus

• Shortness of breath, especially with activity

• Wheezing

• Tightness in the chest

• Limitations in activity

4. How is COPD Diagnosed?

To diagnose COPD, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, do a physical exam, and conduct breathing tests.

The most common breathing test used to confirm a diagnosis of COPD is spirometry. This easy, painless test involves breathing into a large hose connected to a machine, called a spirometer. The spirometer measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs.

Your doctor may suggest additional tests to rule out other lung problems, such as asthma or heart failure, or to plan treatment. These may include other lung function tests, a chest X-ray, or a test to measure the level of oxygen in your blood.

5. What Are the Treatments for COPD?

The goal of COPD treatment is to ease your symptoms, slow the progress of COPD, prevent or treat any complications, and improve your overall quality of life.

COPD treatment may include:

• Bronchodilators: medicines (often inhaled) that help open up the airways

• Corticosteroids: medicines that reduce airway inflammation

• Antibiotics: medicines to help fight bacterial infections

• Daliresp: an oral drug that inhibits an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE-4); The drug prevents COPD flares in people whose condition is associated with chronic bronchitis only.

• Flu or pneumonia vaccines: immunizations to reduce the chances of getting the flu or pneumonia

• Pulmonary rehabilitation: a program of exercise, disease management, and counseling to help you stay as healthy and active as possible

• Oxygen therapy: extra oxygen to reduce shortness of breath, protect organs, and enhance your quality of life

In severe cases of COPD, the doctor may suggest surgery to remove diseased lung tissue or to replace a diseased lung with a healthy one.

6. What Can I do to Stay Healthier While Living With COPD?

If you’re a smoker, of course the most important thing you can do is to stop smoking. These are other things you can do:

• Stay away from smoke, fumes, dust, and air pollution as much as you can.

• Take your medication exactly as your doctor prescribes it.

• See your doctor regularly – at least two times a year.

• Learn breathing exercises.

• Walk or do other light exercises several times a week.

• Eat healthy foods.

7. Why is Good Nutrition So Important When You’re Living with COPD?

It goes without saying that good nutrition is important for everyone. If you have COPD, a balanced diet can give you more energy and improve your health. People with COPD require more calories than that of a healthy person. That’s because it takes much more energy to breathe when you have the disease.

8. What Can I do to Conserve Energy When I Have COPD?

There are many things you can do:

• Put things you use most often in an easy-to-reach place.

• Use a small cart on wheels to move things around.

• Wear clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.

• Do certain tasks sitting down.

• Take regular rest breaks.

• Ask family and friends for help.

9. What Are the Complications of Living With COPD?

With COPD, you are more likely to:

• Get colds, the flu, or pneumonia

• Have an enlarged heart

• Have high blood pressure

10. When Should I Call for Help?

You should call 911 right away if:

• You can’t walk or talk

• Your heart beats very fast or it has an irregular beat

• Your lips or fingernails turn blue

• You breathe fast and hard, even when on medicines

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