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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Emphysema Showing Gross Lung Damage with Black Carbon Cavities from Smoking

Smoking Main Cause

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a very serious disorder that damages the lungs and affects the ability to breathe. The cause is usually from cigarette smoke, but can also be from breathing in all kinds of fine particles of polluted air in a factory. In some countries where people use open fires for cooking and heating they can also develop COPD. It is estimated that 20-30% of heavy smokers will get COPD. However, COPD can really begin years before it reaches this stage of breathlessness. If you are experiencing coughing you should see your doctor about getting a Spirometry Test. For more information about smoking and quitting smoking please see our blog post from March 21, 2018.

COPD Composed of these Disease States:


The lungs have tiny air sacks in them called alveoli. Emphysema occurs when these air sacks become too damaged to properly function. They get overstretched when a person struggles to breathe and from too much heavy coughing. This actually causes the lungs to get bigger. Breathing to let oxygen in and carbon dioxide out becomes very difficult. In fact, air that should be exhaled is often left in the lungs.

Chronic Bronchitis

The breathing tubes or bronchial airways become inflamed and this damages the tiny hairs (cilia) that line the tubes so that they cannot easily bring up mucus. This results in getting more and more blocked up and makes breathing very difficult.

Refractory Asthma

This is a kind of non-reversible asthma that does not respond to the usual asthma medicines. When a person gets an asthma attack with swelling and tightening of the bronchial air tubes, medicines do not succeed to reduce the swelling or to loosen up the bronchial airway,

Genetic Factors

Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (AAt) is found in about 1% of the people who develop COPD. This comes from a lack of a certain kind of protein. This genetic problem is not limited to cigarette smokers, but can affect infants and small children and also may cause damage to the liver. By replacing this missing protein, some people can be treated for this problem.

Symptoms of COPD

Breathlessness and Feeling short of Breath

Coughing and feeling out of breath with difficulty in breathing are the main signs of COPD. Coughing can be accompanied by spitting up mucus which may be of various colors ranging from clear to white, green or yellow.


This is not always heard, but a doctor can hear it with a stethoscope.

Chest Tightness

Straining to breathe makes the chest tighten up.

Blue Colored Lips or Beds of the Finger Nails

This is caused by a lack of oxygen (cyanosis).

Tendency to Catch a lot of Colds and other Respiratory Infections

Those afflicted with COPD are very prone to colds, flu and pneumonia that can lead to major breathing problems.

Feeling Tired Out

People with COPD suffer a lot from fatigue because they are always struggling to breathe, do not get enough oxygen and this wears them out.

Swelling in Feet, Legs and Ankles

Lifestyle Changes

If discovered while it is still mild, lifestyle changes can help to prevent it from advancing like giving up smoking or wearing special equipment to protect the lungs at the workplace from inhaling industrial particles.

People with COPD have trouble climbing stairs, so often they have to move to a home without stairs. They have to try to avoid catching colds or the flu and should certainly get a flu shot when available.


People suffering from COPD are subject to periodic attacks where the conditions worsen that are called exacerbations. These can sometimes last for a few days.

COPD is Preventable

COPD can be prevented by not smoking or giving up smoking. Mild cases, especially, can be helped by giving up smoking in time to prevent further deterioration. However, COPD is a chronic disease that usually gets worse with time, especially if the person continues to smoke or gets a lot of second-hand smoke from other smokers. While these illnesses can be devastating and impact on quality of life, they can be helped by various medications and devices that treat the symptoms.  Unfortunately, many people continue to smoke until the damage cannot be undone.


There are many kinds of medications and devices that doctors use to treat COPD. Some people will need oxygen therapy and may have to have an oxygen tank all the time in their home.

Some people will need surgery on their lungs.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) may be the best solution for treatment and this may follow surgical procedures on the lungs. To read more about pulmonary rehabilitation and advanced respiratory rehabilitation, please see our blog post from February 10, 2018.

Ditmas Park Rehab Center in Brooklyn NY

Ditmas Park Rehab Center in Brooklyn NY with a 5-star rating is an excellent rehab and treatment center specializing in world class pulmonary care and rehabilitation. 

Brooklyn Hospitals near Ditmas Park Rehab Center

New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn (formerly named NYU Lutheran Medical Center)

SUNY Downstate Medical Center – University Hospital of Brooklyn

NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County

Maimonides Medical Center


Since smoking is the number one cause for COPD, all effort must be put at quitting and also staying away from second-hand smoke.

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