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How to Identify and treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive respiratory disease that does not have a cure. The main symptoms of this disease are shortness of breath, cough and difficulty breathing, due to obstructed airflow to the lungs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a result of lesions to the lungs, especially from cigarette smoking, because the smoke and other substances present in the cigarette provoke slowly the destruction of the tissue that forms the respiratory tract.

Besides cigarette, other factors can contribute to developing COPD, such as exposure to wood-fired smoke, working in coal mines, genetic changes in the lungs, and even exposure to other people's cigarette smoke, which is called passive smoking.

How to Identify and treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Main symptoms

The inflammation that develops in the lungs impedes normal cell and tissue function. When there is dilation of the airways and entrapment of the air, it is called emphysema. When there is dysfunction of the glands that produce mucus, causing cough and production of respiratory secretions, it is called bronchitis.

Therefore, the main symptoms are:

  • Persistent cough;
  • Catarrh, especially in the morning;
  • Shortness of breath, that starts slowly only when doing some kind of exertion but gets worse other time to the point when it is present even if you are standing still.

In addition, people with this disease may have respiratory infections more often, which may further worsen symptoms, with more shortness of breath and secretions, a condition that is called exacerbated COPD.


The diagnosis of COPD is made by a general practitioner or pulmonologist, based on your medical history and a physical examination, as well as tests such as chest X-rays, computed tomography of the chest, and blood tests, such as arterial blood gases, that indicate changes the shape and function of the lungs.

However, to obtain confirmation you have to do a test called Spirometry, which demonstrates the degree of obstruction of the airways and the amount of air that you can breathe, which helps to classify the disease as mild, moderate and severe.

How to Identify and treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

How to treat COPD

To treat COPD, it is essential you stop smoking because otherwise the inflammation and symptoms will continue to worsen, even with the use of medication.

The medicine used is mainly an inhalation pump, prescribed by the Pulmonologist, which contains active principles that open the airways to allow the passage of air and reduce symptoms, such as:

  • Bronchodilators, such as Albuterol or  Formoterol;
  • Anticholinergics, such as Ipratropium Bromide solution (Atrovent);
  • Beta-2-agonists such as Albuterol, Pirbuterol, Salbutamol or Terbutaline;
  • Corticosteroids such as Beclomethasone, Budesonide and Fluticasone.

Another remedy used to decrease the secretion of phlegm is N-acetylcysteine, which can be taken in tablet or sachet diluted in water. Corticosteroids in pill form or intravenous, such as prednisone or hydrocortisone, for example, is only done in cases of exacerbation or acute worsening of symptoms.

Oxygen is necessary in severe cases, with medical indication, and must be done with an oxygen nasal catheter, for a few hours or continuously, depending on each case.

In the latter case surgery can be performed, in which a part of the lung is removed, with the purpose of reducing the volume and the entrapment of air in the lungs. However, this surgery is only done in some very serious cases and in which the person can tolerate this procedure.

You should also follow some cautions like choosing a comfortable position while lying down, to make breathing easier, preferring to leave the bed inclined or slightly seated if you find it difficult to breathe. In addition, it is important to do activities within your limits, so that the lack of air does not become too intense, and your diet should be done with the help of a nutritionist so that the nutrients you need to give you energy are restored.

Physiotherapy for COPD

In addition to medical treatment for COPD, it is also recommended you do respiratory physiotherapy as it helps to improve your breathing capacity and quality of life. The goal of this treatment is to aid in the rehabilitation of breathing, thus reducing symptoms, medication doses and the need for hospitalization.

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