PATIENT EDUCATION SERIES: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

March 2004 
Volume 34  Number 3
Pages 56 - 57
  PDF Version Available!


  • What is COPD?

  • How will my health care provider know I have COPD?

  • How will my COPD be treated?

  • What can I do to take care of myself?


  • Table. How does my C...

    What is COPD?

    The term “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” (COPD) refers to certain lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, that make it hard to breathe. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD, but breathing secondhand smoke, dust at work, or fumes from stoves, heaters, or chemicals can also cause it. In rare cases, it can be inherited.

    If you have COPD, you'll have some or all of these symptoms:

    * You cough a lot and bring up mucus.

    * You have trouble catching your breath, especially when you work hard or walk fast.

    * When you catch a cold, it stays with you a long time. Your cough worsens, and the mucus you cough up may be a different color than it normally is.

    How will my health care provider know I have COPD?

    First, she'll examine you and ask you questions about your health. If she thinks you have COPD, she'll perform one or more of these simple tests to check your breathing:

    * Spirometry . You'll exhale into a tube that's attached to a device called a spirometer . The spirometer will measure the amount of air you breathe in and out of your lungs.

    * Lung diffusion testing . You'll breathe some air that contains a small amount of carbon monoxide. You'll hold the air for 10 seconds and then exhale. By measuring the carbon monoxide, the technologist can tell how much air moves from your lungs into your blood.

    * Lung volume measurement . You'll sit in a closed glass box the size of a telephone booth. The technologist will put a clip on your nose, and you'll breathe through your mouth and into a mouthpiece. This test determines how much ...

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