The History of COPD

The history of COPD is interesting. I also find it interesting to know that some of the things that were developed and first tried hundreds of years ago, are still used today.

17th century

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) became part of our history, which became known through the writings in the mid-17th century of Theophile Bonet, a Swiss-born physician. Bonet performed 3,000 autopsies on his patients. When he first discussed and explained the effects of emphysema on the lungs, he said that in patients with emphysema, the lungs were larger, which caused shortness of breath2.

19th century

Here is a brief timeline of important 19th century events in the context of COPD:

  • 1800s:

    Smoking wasn’t common, so Dr. Rene Laënnec identified the causes of COPD to be air pollution and genetic factors. Today, smoking is the leading cause of COPD.2

  • 1814:

    Bronchitis was described as inflammatory changes in the mucous membrane by a British physician, Charles Badham. It changed the way doctors thought and viewed a variety of medical conditions2.

  • 1821:

    Dr. Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope and became known as the father of chest medicine. He was the person to compare the relationship of chronic bronchitis and emphysema to COPD. He was also the first to person to see the relationship between emphysema and aging. He defined emphysema as tissue damage in the peripheral air passages. He realized that emphysema breaks down the tissue of the parenchyma of the lungs, whereas air trapped in the alveoli is due to an obstruction, which occurs in asthma, as well as chronic bronchitis2.

  • 1837:

    Dr. William Stokes first used the term chronic bronchitis. He figured out that it was the inflammation of the mucous membrane that caused the cells to dilate, thus making it harder to breathe. He believed that some form of bronchitis was evident in nearly all diseases of the lungs, such as COPD, asthma, pneumonia, etc2.

  • 1846:

    John Hutchinson invented the spirometer, which is an essential tool used to diagnose and treat COPD and other lung diseases. Research with the spirometer is still used today2.

20th century

More recent important events include:

  • 1950s:

    Physicians learned so much about the lungs.

  • 1959:

    At a gathering of medical professionals called the Ciba Guest Symposium where they would make up the full list of components for the definition and diagnosis of COPD. In the past, COPD was referred to as “chronic airflow obstruction” and “chronic obstructive lung disease2.”

  • 1965:

    Dr. William Briscoe is thought to be the first person to use the term COPD at the 9th Aspen Emphysema Conference in2.

  • 1960s:

    When the term FEV1 was first used to measure expiratory flow. This lung function test made it possible to differentiate asthma from chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other lung diseases. The University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver had it’s first trial on oxygen use with COPD. In the early 80s, which was developed further. Today, the only treatment known to alter the course of COPD, has been long term oxygen2.

  • 1976:

    Dr. Charles Fletcher devoted his life to the study of COPD. He linked smoking to COPD with his book “The Natural History of Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema”. He and his colleagues discovered that stopping smoking helps to slow the progress of COPD and that smoking will accelerate the progression of the disease2.

Until recently, the two most common COPD treatments weren’t available. In the past, oxygen and steroids were considered dangerous. Exercising was also discouraged, it was thought to strain the heart.

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