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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Are you short of breath when you walk to get your mail, carry groceries, go up a hill or stairs? You could have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of diseases that cause airflow obstruction or blockage and breathing difficulties. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is a common condition that affects more than 16 million Americans. Unfortunately, COPD is not only common, but it is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the cost of taking care of persons with COPD is around $50 billion per year.

Could you have COPD?

The main cause of COPD is smoking tobacco. If you smoke or used to smoke, you are at a higher risk of developing COPD. Exposure to air pollution in the home or at work, family history and respiratory infections like pneumonia also increase your risk of having or developing COPD.

Symptoms of COPD

  • Frequent coughing or wheezing
  • Excess phlegm or sputum production usually worse in the mornings
  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Trouble taking a deep breath

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed using a simple breathing test called spirometry, which requires you to blow air into a mouthpiece and tube attached to a machine. The machine then measures the amount of air you blow and how fast you blow it.

How is COPD treated?

  • Tobacco cessation is the most important aspect of treatment.
  • Avoiding tobacco smoke and other air pollutants at home and at work.
  • Medications like inhalers that will help relieve the obstruction and relieve the symptoms of coughing or wheezing.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation, a personalized treatment program that teaches you how to manage your COPD symptoms to improve quality of life. Plans may include learning to breathe better, how to conserve your energy and advice on food and exercise.
  • Avoiding and treating lung infections quickly to prevent worsening of the lung function. This can be achieved with antibiotics and keeping up with the recommended vaccines (flu and pneumonia).
  • Supplemental oxygen from a portable oxygen tank may be needed if blood oxygen levels are low.

Is COPD reversible?

Unfortunately, COPD is not reversible. However, with early diagnosis and prompt therapy, the disease can be managed. Please talk with your primary care provider if you or someone you know has any of the above symptoms.


Information provided by Luis Destarac, MD, FCCP, a board-certified pulmonologist at the UT Health East Texas Pulmonary Institute on South Fleishel in Tyler. For more information, visit or call 903-592-6901.

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