Understanding Your COPD Diagnosis

You’ve probably heard of COPD, through personal experiences with it or from seeing commercials about it. You have some idea about it⎯it’s a breathing condition and it’s caused by smoking. You also know that COPD symptoms limit your quality of life. But, is that all? Not to worry, COPD is a complex condition. There’s a lot to know about it. But, we’re here to help you understand it a little better. First, let’s start with the basics.

Understanding COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also referred to as “COPD,” is a condition that’s caused by progressive airway obstruction and abnormal airway responsiveness. That’s a lot of clinical terminologies. But what exactly does it mean?

These conditions cause changes in your airways. Structural changes or changes in how and to what your airway responds. Sometimes they overreact. This causes airway obstruction. Your airways are responsible for bringing air in and out of the lungs. When there’s swelling or inflammation in the airways, they become obstructed. This obstruction is progressive, which means that the decline is gradual, not sudden.  This obstruction is also irreversible. Much like asthma, the airways are sensitive and tend to be overly responsive to different things.

Digging Deeper: What Causes COPD?

At this point, you should have a very basic understanding of COPD. You know the mechanisms that cause COPD. Next, you’ll learn about the why and how. 

You develop COPD. Long-term exposure to harmful, poisonous, or toxic gases and particles is the cause. When you breathe in these gases or particles, your airways respond by becoming irritated, swollen, or inflamed. As the result, you have airway obstruction and airflow limitation. Lots of exposure to toxic gases isn’t just bad for COPD. It can also cause lung diseases which also cause airway obstruction. 

COPD actually includes different disease conditions that affect the airways and lungs. These conditions can range from bronchitis, which is when there’s inflammation of the lungs, to emphysema, enlargement of the small air spaces in the airways, and closure of the airways.  In short, these conditions can make it hard for you to breathe.

COPD Symptoms:
  • Lingering cough with mucus or a combination of mucus and saliva
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent colds
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory infections

Everyone doesn’t have these COPD symptoms. However, the more severe your COPD, the more likely you are to have one or more of them.  Also, it’s possible to have COPD symptoms that don’t affect your breathing. How does this happen? COPD is a systemic disease. In short, it affects multiple systems in your body. People with mild COPD can have symptoms that affect other bodily systems. Similarly, they can have symptoms that only affect their breathing.