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Learning About COPD

Here’s a scenario: Again today, you’re short of breath. You haven’t walked very far. Yet the temperature is great. You can’t catch your breath. You don’t feel sick, so you don’t see a need to call the doctor. Yet, you’ve been more tired than normal. You say that you cough more in the morning and have a thick mucus. Yet, you don’t have a cold. You quit smoking 10 months ago, your cough seems worse. Your spouse still smokes. You ask what you should do. You should call and make an appointment with your doctor. Make a list of health issues, history, allergies and medications. Don’t be afraid.

After testing, the doctor may say that you have COPD.

COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Possible causes: Smoking, second hand smoke, pollution, burning wood, dust, chemicals, fumes, kerosene, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and more.

Common symptoms: Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, mucus and a tight chest


  1. Emphysema is a lung condition that causes shortness of breath. The alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs are damaged. In time, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and rupture. This creates large air spaces instead of many small ones. It reduces the surface area of the lungs, which reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream. When you exhale, the damaged alveoli doesn’t work properly. The old air becomes trapped, leaving no room for fresh, oxygen-rich air to enter.
  2. Chronic Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. In the lungs, these carry air to and from the alveoli. This is characterized by daily coughing and mucus production.
  3. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency is the genetic form of COPD. This disease causes the alpha-1 antitrypsin protein to be reduced or missing from the blood. This protein is necessary for healthy lungs. The body uses it to protect the lungs from damage. If a person has low or no levels of AAT their lungs may be damaged.

Methods of Testing

  1. X-Ray – A chest X-Ray shows a picture of the lungs and heart. An X-ray isn’t enough to diagnose COPD, but it can help to evaluate, diagnose and detect COPD.
  2. CT Scan (Chest Computed Tomography) – This procedure is used to help diagnose COPD, as well as to see if the COPD is worse and the extent in the lungs.
  3. Spirometry – The best test to determine lung function. With this you place your mouth on a tube. You will be given a variety of tests this way. You breathe in and breathe out in the tube. A technician will explain to you though out the testing, what you are supposed to do. This testing will determine your lung volume. This explains your FEV1, Forced Expiratory Volume, the amount breathed out as forcefully as possible. This explains your FVC, Forced Vital Capacity, the amount of air forced out after taking a deep breath.


  • Stage 1: Mild COPD has an FEV1 80% or more of normal. You might not know that you have a health problem yet, but may notice more shortness of breath with activities. You may be coughing more.
  • Stage 2: Moderate COPD has an FEV1 between 50% and 80% of normal. You cough more and notice more mucus. You might be more conscious of the changes in your breathing and other COPD symptoms. Your doctor might recommend pulmonary rehab. Do take it if you can.
  • Stage 3: Severe emphysema has an FEV1 between 30% and 50% of normal. You notice a decline in lung function. You might experience more shortness of breath, more coughing and mucus. You might find that you’re tired more often. Walking and exercising can be troubling too. Your doctor might prescribe medications to help the inflammation and to make it easier to breathe. You might notice changes in your oxygen levels when exercising or sleeping.
  • Stage 4: Very severe or end-stage COPD has an FEV1 29% and below. You might have more exacerbations and flares. Some may be serious. Your doctor might change your treatment plan. You might find that you struggle getting enough oxygen. Low blood levels can lead to more serious health issues. If your oxygen levels are low, your doctor might prescribe oxygen.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.