Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

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You may not be familiar with the term Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and yet it affects almost a million people in the UK. Around another two million people are believed to have early symptoms but don't visit their GP - either because they don’t really notice them or appreciate their significance.

Two conditions that fall under the COPD umbrella are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Here you will find a brief overview of these conditions, including how to recognise early symptoms, how it is diagnosed and the medications and other treatments that can help manage symptoms but unfortunately don’t offer a cure.

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is not a disease in itself but the name given to conditions where you find it difficult to breathe in and out due to long term damage to your lungs. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema but not chronic asthma.

In normal lungs, the network of tubes or ‘airways’ that transport air deep into your lungs, become gradually smaller, ending in tiny air sacs. When air reaches the air sacs, oxygen passes into your blood. At the same time, unwanted carbon dioxide transfers into your blood and is expelled when you breathe out. If your airways are damaged, it is harder for air to flow in and out of your lungs and so difficult for you to get enough oxygen.

Damage occurs in response to harmful substances and usually starts with inflammation. If the inflammation lasts for a while, permanent changes start to take place. The walls of the airways become thickened, the airways are narrower and so breathing becomes more of an effort.

In chronic bronchitis, inflammation results in overproduction of mucus in the airways and formation of phlegm that blocks your airways and makes you cough.

In emphysema, the damage also affects the air sacs. They lose their elasticity, which makes it difficult to keep the airways open and for air to get in and out of your lungs.  With fewer air sacs working properly, the transfer of oxygen into your blood and removal of carbon dioxide is more difficult.  Therefore you breathe harder in an attempt to get enough oxygen. If you can’t get enough oxygen, you will feel tired and less able to carry out everyday activities. 

Many people with COPD have chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

We are grateful for the generous support of Sir Naim Dangoor CBE
and the Exilarch Foundation

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