COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a chronic disease of the lungs that involves airway damage and blockage that worsens over time. The progressively worsening airway blockage causes the main symptoms of COPD: difficulty breathing, cough, and mucus production. While the most common cause of COPD is smoking, other causes can include significant exposure to air pollutants, frequent respiratory infections, and untreated asthma. Standard COPD treatments include use of specific inhalers to relax and open up the airways.
Last Updated: April 28 2022
COPD is a chronic condition which occurs due irreversible damage to the lungs. Common symptoms include trouble breathing, wheezing, cough, and mucus production. Normal lungs have many small stretchy air sacs that inflate upon inhalation and deflate upon exhalation. With COPD, less air can enter the lungs because air sacs have damaged walls and are less stretchy (this is called emphysema); and the airway becomes inflamed triggering cough and more mucus production (this is called chronic bronchitis). Most people have a COPD with both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, with variable severity.
Symptoms of COPD vary depending on the severity of the disease. The most common symptoms include shortness of breath and wheezing, chronic cough (often with mucus), and fatigue. COPD is often associated with frequent infections of the airways and sometimes with a blue tint of lips or fingernails (due to a lack of oxygen).
COPD is initially suspected when people present with long-term difficulty breathing and cough along with a risk factor such as smoking or exposure to pollution. Healthcare providers diagnose COPD based on signs and symptoms, personal and family medical histories, and also test results (lung tests, imaging and blood tests). Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you have COPD, do not self-diagnose.
After COPD is diagnosed, the mainstay of treatment includes stopping smoking (if currently smoking) and the use of inhalers (bronchodilators) to manage symptoms and prevent exacerbations. The types of inhalers and their frequency of use depends on the individual person’s severity of symptoms and number of exacerbations.
Not many supplements have been studied for COPD, and there’s no strong evidence that those that have been studied definitely help. Beetroot juice, Chlorella, honey, and black seed (Nigella sativa) oil are examples of supplements that have been studied for COPD.
A diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of developing COPD, though it is unclear if this diet will help to manage symptoms. COPD is associated with worsened outcomes in malnourished individuals, such as muscle wasting and reduced exercise capacity, which leads to worsened quality of life and increased mortality risk, so it is especially important to maintain a healthy diet in those with COPD. Therefore, it is especially important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet in those with COPD.
COPD is usually caused long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and airways. In the US, cigarette smoke is the main cause. Inhaling other types of smoke (pipe, cigar, biomass fuel, etc), pollution, and chemical fumes can also cause COPD. Also, some people have a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency which makes them more likely to sustain lung damage from pollution and smoke and sometimes lead to early-onset COPD.