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COPD: What is it and how does it affect you?

November 21, 2019 | Venkataswamy, Adhitya, DO


COPD is otherwise known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Millions of people suffer from COPD every year, and according to the American Lung Association, it is the third highest cause of death due to a disease in the US. In COPD, the air passages in the lungs get inflamed, which leads to less air flowing through. When the airways in the lungs get damaged by inflammation, this makes it more difficult for air to get in and out. This can lead to trapping of air in the lungs and less fresh air can make it into the lungs, which makes it difficult to breathe.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD? And what is a COPD exacerbation?

Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing up sputum, and chest tightness. People can get flare ups or worsening of COPD known as exacerbation. When COPD flares up, people can get exhibit these signs and symptoms and also be unable to perform their regular activities and have a tough time catching their breath.

What are risk factors to get COPD?

• Smoking, which is the number one cause in the US;
• Second hand smoke;
• Environmental exposures to dust, vapors, fumes and wood smoke;
• Having asthma;
• Having allergies.

Do you think you have COPD? What can you do?

Visit your doctor. They can do a checkup and order a pulmonary, or lung, function test called a PFT to determine whether you have COPD.

What can lead to COPD flares and what can you do to prevent them?

Respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu can make people with COPD have symptoms like worsening shortness of breath, wheezing, fevers, chills and struggling to breathe. These can be prevented by getting your pneumonia and flu shots. It is very important to get these shots if you have COPD to prevent you from getting severely ill and ending up in the hospital. Check with your doctor to make sure that you are up to date with your pneumonia and flu shots. Also, make sure to wash your hands.

How is COPD treated?

Treatment depends on how bad your COPD is. Typically COPD is treated with long-acting inhalers that are meant for regular use and short-acting inhalers that are to be used in emergencies when you can’t breathe. These inhalers can help by relaxing the airways and helping them expand and stay open so air can flow in and out. You can also be put on a nebulizer to help you breathe better. Your doctor might give you steroids and/or antibiotics if you have a COPD Exacerbation to help you breathe better. Doctors can also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation, which teaches you exercises and breathing techniques to help your breathing.

What can you do to best manage your COPD?

• See your doctor if you have symptoms and take medicines as prescribed.
• If you smoke, work with your doctor to cut down with a goal of eventually quitting smoking. Avoid secondhand smoke. Penn Highlands offers a smoking cessation support group at 6 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month at the DuBois Community Medical Building for help, too.
• Get your pneumonia and flu shots.
• Wash your hands.

If you don’t have a primary care provider, Penn Highlands can help.  Family Medicine residents, working with board certified family doctors, care for patients of all ages at the Family Medicine Continuity Clinic. We treat patients for acute and chronic illnesses and injuries, as well as routine and preventive care. To schedule an appointment with one of our residents in the clinic located in the Medical Arts Building, Suite 315, call 814-503-4305.


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Venkataswamy, Adhitya, DO

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Family Medicine

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Family Medicine Residency Clinic