What is COPD? Well, COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and it is characterized by a gradually worsening ability to breathe. The disease is progressive and currently there is no cure for it, which means that over time, symptoms become worse and worse, as does the difficulty level of breathing. Understanding what is COPD and how it affects breathing starts with understanding on a physiological level what the disease entails. Airways that make breathing possible are connected in the lungs to tubes called bronchioles, which are much smaller and thinner. Small air sacs called alveoli are located at the ends of these tiny and thin tubes. These small sacs act like balloons and inflate when inhaling and deflate when exhaling. COPD affects these tiny sacs in numerous possible ways. In some cases, the walls between the sacs are destroyed entirely, leaving larger and less efficient air sacs. In some cases, these walls become thicker or inflamed which can reduce their ability to function. Illness related mucus can also clog the sacs in people with COPD. And, a loss of stretchiness resulting from COPD can severely impact the function of the respiratory system as well. But, COPD in itself is not actually a condition, rather a result caused by them. Thus answering the question what is COPD means understanding the diseases that cause it.
Lung disease is what leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Two main types of lung disease are typically responsible, including obstructive chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In some cases, people may have both conditions, which can make COPD worse. However, in others, progressively worsening forms of one condition or another can play a role. Chronic bronchitis is a major contributor and is most common in people who smoke. This type of lung disease refers to the inflammation of the airways that are used for breathing and can lead to symptoms like fatigue, swelling of the feet and ankles, excessive coughing and mucus production and even chest pain. Individual bouts of chronic bronchitis can last months, and the condition often recurs regularly.
Pulmonary emphysema is the second type of COPD causing illness, and it is a very common answer to the question what is COPD? Like bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema is typically a smoking related condition that can damage, destroy, narrow, collapse and stretch the air sacs in the lungs, leading to more labored breathing. Emphysema is categorized based on what part of the lungs are affected, thus centrilobular emphysema starts in the bronchioles, panicinar emphysema beings in the lower part of the lung, and paraseptal emphysema starts in the structures of the airways. Where the emphysema is located can have an impact on the progression of the illness.
Unlike bronchitis, emphysema itself is categorized into stages. Stage one refers to a mild case of the condition with 80 percent or more of lung function retained. Emphysema stage two refers to a balance of lung function greater than half but less than 80 percent. The third of the emphysema stages is considered severe, but refers to lung function above thirty percent, but less than half. The last and worse stage of emphysema refers to lung function below thirty percent. Those wondering what is COPD should understand these stages, because the severity of COPD is also measured by them. When the disease occurs with bronchitis, COPD can also be categorized in four stages determined by lung function, and they’re considered one in the same.
COPD signs and symptoms are primarily related to breathing. Early on, breathing may only be more labored when physical activity or exertion are present. However, as the condition progresses, other symptoms may present, with one of the most common being mucus production. Unlike the mucus produced with other illnesses however, it is not uncommon for people suffering from bronchitis, emphysema or both to find coughing up blood to be a regular occurrence. In fact, spitting up blood or finding blood streaked or tinged sputum may be considered one of the defining symptoms of the condition in addition to breathing difficulties.
Understanding what is COPD requires some knowledge about what risk factors make developing it more likely. Smoking is the single biggest and most common risk factor for developing COPD and it is the most abundant cause. There are some other risk factors however that may serve as precursors to the condition. For instance, exposure to secondhand smoke, occupational toxins and environmental pollutants and long term cooking in poorly ventilated areas may also be risk factors for developing COPD. Eliminating these risk factors serve as the only means of prevention from the illness. Stopping smoking is the biggest factor, however reducing environmental exposures may be beneficial as well. Not every person who smokes will develop COPD. However, every person who smokes and quits will halt the progression of the illness. Abstinence from cigarette smoking prevents COPD and slows the chronic disease. In fact, it may be safe to say to those wondering what is COPD that it is a dangerous lung disease that is often caused by smoking and gets improved by stopping it.