Chronic Bronchitis and COPD

A Major Cause of Illness and Premature Death That Result From Cigarette Smoking

Anybody who smokes and/or has shortness of breath and has to cough up excessive phlegm could have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD

When people think of lung diseases, the usual conditions that come to mind are lung cancer, asthma and pneumonia. The symptom of cough - particularly chronic cough - can however be a symptom of another very serious disease.

Called chronic bronchitis or emphysema in years gone by, the condition now referred to as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease - and more often by the acronyms COPD or COAD - is one that has increased in prevalence over the past few decades.


In the world today, many millions of people suffer from COPD - and it is one of the leading causes of death and disability throughout the world. The disease develops gradually, and often it is only after significant damage has occurred to the patient’s lungs that the symptoms manifest themselves.

Causes of COPD

COPD results from long term exposure to irritants that damage the bronchi and lungs. Almost always, this damage can be attributed to long term cigarette smoking. Inhaling air polluted by chemical fumes and dust - as well as passive smoking have also been implicated in the aetiology of COPD.

COPD almost always develops after long-term exposure to lung irritants which damage the bronchi and lungs - and the most common such irritant is cigarette smoke. Passive smoking — having to inhale over a long period smoke in the air from other people’s cigarettes — as well as inhaling pipe and cigar smoke is also implicated - as well as, to a lesser degree, the inhalation of chemical fumes and heavily polluted air.

Symptoms of COPD

* Persistent cough with large amounts of phlegm

* Wheezing and tightness of the chest

* Tiredness

* Breathlessness - at first only after exertion but in more severe cases, even at rest.

Complications of COPD

* Those suffering from COPD are vulnerable to several complications

* Repeated respiratory infections - common colds, throat infection, bronchitis, pneumonia

* Heart failure - since the heart is forced to work harder to push blood through the fibrosed lungs, those with COPD are at risk of developing Right heart failure or ‘Cor Pulmonale’

* Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) - about a fifth of those with COPD also have OSA

Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD because the damage to the lungs is permanent. The objectives of therapy today are to

* prevent further lung damage

* alleviate the patient’s symptoms

* reduce the risk of complications

Stopping Smoking

Long term cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD - the continuous damage due to tobacco smoke on the airways results in narrowing and inflammation of the bronchi. Perhaps the single most important thing a person who has COPD can do is to stop smoking. Among other therapeutic options are utilising medications (known as bronchodilators) to open up the airways as well as to improve breathing - and also using steroid inhalations to reduce the inflammation in the airways.

If breathlessness is severe, these patients may even need oxygen therapy - given thorugh nasal prongs from a portable oxygen tank.

People who are diagnosed with COPD must learn how to help themselves - and help their doctors to help them deal with what, if not managed well, can become an incapacitating disease.

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