COPD: Preventable and treatable lung disease


By Sarah Toadvine

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a preventable and treatable lung disease that affects more than 5 percent of the population. People who smoke, or have smoked in their lifetime, are at the highest risk for developing COPD and the amount and duration of smoking contributes to disease severity. Subtypes of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema; however, most people have a combination of the two conditions.

A small percentage of people who lack a protein called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin will develop emphysema. COPD increases the risk of developing lung infections, lung cancers and heart problems.

Hallmark symptoms of COPD are dyspnea (the feeling of breathlessness), chronic cough and sputum production. The lungs often sound normal in early cases of COPD so a test called spirometry is used to make the diagnosis. With spirometric testing, the patient blows as hard as possible into a machine that tests lung capacity. COPD is diagnosed when the results show irreversible airflow obstruction.

Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to keeping COPD under control. Quitting smoking is the most important step one can take towards treating COPD. Inflammation and smooth muscle contraction cause narrowing of the airways making it harder to breath. Inhalers contain medication that relaxes the smooth muscle and reduces inflammation to improve airflow into the lungs. In more severe COPD, patients may need regular use of aerosolized medications through a nebulizer machine.

In advanced cases of COPD, patients often require chronic oxygen. People with COPD are at increased risk of respiratory infections so it is important for the patient to get vaccinated against both influenza and pneumonia.

There is evidence that exercise, diet and weight loss can improve exercise tolerance and health status in people with COPD.

COPD is a chronic, progressive lung disease but with proper management, including smoking cessation, individuals can remain stable and continue to enjoy a good quality of life for many years.

Sarah Toadvine is a nurse practitioner for PACE at Element Care’s Buffum Street location in Lynn. For more information call 877-803-5564 or visit Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at