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Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and COPD are a cluster of diseases that represent the most common findings in the lungs of any patient. They result in shortness of breath, sputum production, low oxygenation in the blood and wheezing. COPD is the umbrella disease under which the diseases chronic bronchitis and emphysema fall. In chronic bronchitis, there is a chronic cough productive of a great deal of sputum. The bronchial tree is inflamed and produces excess sputum that can clog the airways. When COPD is mostly emphysema, it involves serious lung damage that makes smaller alveoli open up into bigger alveoli and blebs so that the air exchange is poor and the person is short of breath. Wheezing can happen in both chronic bronchitis and in emphysema. Most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis together.

The major cause of COPD and emphysema or chronic bronchitis is smoking. The more you smoke, the greater is your likelihood of getting COPD. What's true, however, is that some people get COPD who have ever smoked. People born with a hereditary alpha 1 antitrypsin disease are more likely to get COPD without ever having smoked. Other risk factors for getting COPD include being exposed in the workplace to fumes or gases that damage the lungs. If you are exposed to a great deal of pollution or secondhand smoke, you have a greater risk of developing COPD. If you use cooking gases without properly ventilating their use, you can be at greater risk of developing COPD.

Common symptoms of COPD include cough with the production of a great deal of mucus, shortness of breath, even with mild activity, frequent infections of the lower respiratory tract, wheezing and fatigue. Some people may not even know they have COPD because the symptoms came on gradually and they didn't notice the change in symptoms.

There are several tests for COPD. The most accurate test involves doing spirometry-a breathing test that can detect changes in the airways. It determines the lung capacity and how much air can be blown out in one second of breathing. A stethoscope can pick up on wheezing and on congestion in the lungs. Absent breath sounds or reduced breath sounds are a sign of emphysema. X-rays can be done and a CT scan can be done to show blebs and congestion in the lungs. Blood gases detect the amount of CO2 and oxygen in the arterial blood can be shown to have low oxygen and high CO2 levels.

Treatment of COPD includes medications to control the symptoms and oxygen to replace lost oxygen due to damaged lungs. There isn't any real cure for COPD but it can be managed. If you quit smoking or stop exposure to pollutants, the disease might not at least get any worse. Some medications used for wheezing and chronic bronchitis include inhalers including ipratropium (Atrovent), albuterol and salmeterol. Inhaled steroids decrease the inflammation in the bronchial tree and lungs. Steroids can be given by IV or by mouth in cases where the inhaled steroids aren't working or the situation is severe. Antibiotics are used for secondary infections so common in COPD. Breathing exercises can be done in therapy so that you can breathe more effectively and have a better exercise tolerance. This is called pulmonary rehabilitation.

You can prevent worsening of the disease by avoiding exposure to cold air, keeping smokers away from you and stopping smoking yourself, reducing fireplace smoke and other irritants in the lungs and staying active. You need to have a healthy diet to keep your weight up. In the worst cases, surgery can remove a portion of the lung that is diseased. Lung transplants are possible in rare cases.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our COPD solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a COPD solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here