Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) makes it difficult to breathe easily. Although COPD can’t be cured, there are treatments available that may improve your ability to breathe.
It’s not always easy to tell if you have COPD. In fact, millions of Americans may have the disease and not realize it, according to the American Lung Association®. This Q&A provides information about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the condition so you’ll have a better idea of when it’s time to see a doctor.
What Is COPD?
COPD refers to a group of chronic lung diseases that damage the lungs, reduce airflow and affect breathing. These include:
All of these diseases reduce the amount of air that reaches your lungs. COPD-related breathing problems may occur if the sacs at the ends of the small airways in your lungs become damaged. You may also have trouble breathing if your air sacs or airways become less elastic or the wall of the airways becomes inflamed and thick. When the airways are inflamed, your lungs may begin to make too much mucus, which can block your airways and make it harder to breathe.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
If you have COPD, these are some of the symptoms you may notice:
How is COPD diagnosed and treated?
Your doctor will perform a few tests that will help determine how well your lungs work. During one type of breathing test, called spirometry, you’ll take a deep breath and then will blow the air out as hard and fast as you can. The test gives your doctor important information about your ability to inhale and exhale air through your lungs. Depending on your symptoms, you may also have a blood test, chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan of your lungs.
If you’re diagnosed with COPD, your doctor may prescribe one of these treatments:
When should you see a doctor?
If you’re not sure if you have COPD, call your doctor if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above. If you’ve already been diagnosed with COPD, contact your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:
The earlier COPD is treated, the better. Be sure to contact your doctor right away if you have symptoms that might indicate you have COPD, your symptoms get worse even with treatment or you don’t feel well and aren’t quite sure why.
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