What is COPD? is a question asked by many. In simple terms Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a progressive respiratory disease that causes breathing difficulties to the patient. The ailment results as an occurrence of emphysema (pink puffer: here ) or chronic bronchitis (blue bloater:here) in the lungs resulting in narrowing of the air pipes. This leads to a medical condition called dyspnea, which simply means shortness of breath.
To a clinician the question will result in the definition of shortage of air movement on a lung function test. The disease is similar to asthma apart from the fact that it is very progressive and poorly reversible. Medical records show that in the US alone, about 12 million people have a positive diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
To understand what COPD is let’s discuss its two causes.
- Chronic bronchitis is caused by the inflammation of the air waves in the lung. This condition leads to mucus accumulation in the air ways contributing their narrowing. Inflammation is preceded by scarring, change in tissues lining the air waves, and thickening of the air waves. Medical reports show that patients with acute COPD suffer from primary chronic bronchitis, not emphysema.
- On the other hand inflammation and lung damage of the alveoli results in emphysema. This condition is described as enlargement of the alveoli, or air sacs, spaces leading to destruction of the bronchioles walls. The damage of the alveoli space walls causes a reduction in available surface area for gaseous exchange. This condition also reduces the elasticity of the lung and might eventually lead to collapsing of the air waves.
COPD is usually caused by noxious particulates or gases in the atmosphere. The common source of this substance is tobacco smoking which contains toxins that trigger abnormal inflammatory responses in the lungs. COPD progressively damages the air ways, and breathing tubes that facilitate movement of air in and out of the lung. The inflammatory responses in the lung result in air waves being swollen and partiality blocked by mucus. Furthermore, they cause damages to tiny air sacs found on the tip of airways. This precipitates breathing problems.
To answer in detail the question, let’s study the functioning mechanism of lungs. We breathe in air through the nose and it flows down via the windpipe to your lungs. In the lungs there are tiny tubes called airways, or bronchial tubes. These bronchial tubes branch and subdivide into smaller and thinner tubes called bronchioles. The bronchioles end up in tiny air sacs referred to as alveoli. The alveoli are engulfed by blood capillaries making them points of gas exchange between the blood in the capillaries and the lungs. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease results in thinning of the bronchioles by mucus accumulation limiting the amount of oxygen reaching the air sacs. Also the air pipes lose their elasticity reducing their capacity to take in high volumes of oxygen to the air sacs. Advanced Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can affect the functioning of other organs beyond the lungs. For instance it can lead to weight loss, heart failure and pulmonary hypertension.