What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes airflow blockage in the lungs.

  • Among the two most common types of COPD disease are:

    • Emphysema: Damage to air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs.

    • Chronic bronchitis: Bronchial channels (i.e. airway routes in the respiratory tract that channels air into the lungs) inflamed and produces a lot of phlegm (sputum).

What are the indications?

Among the signs that you may have COPD are:

  • Continuous coughing with phlegm (sputum) coming out from your mouth

  • Tightening around the chest area

  • Lips or nails become bluish

  • Easy to get respiratory infections

  • Swelling at any part of your leg

  • Sudden loss of weight (if severe)

  • Shortness of breath especially during exercise

  • Sometimes gasping for air (i.e. breathing like you have asthma)

  • Plenty of phlegm produced in your throat

  • Body feels less energetic

Healthy bronchial tubes (left) vs chronic bronchitis (right)

Continuous coughing with phlegm maybe a sign of having COPD

What are the causes?

Among the causes of COPD are:

  • Smoking cigarettes or exposed to cigarette smoke in the long term.

  • Frequent exposure to combustion fumes.

  • Frequent exposure to dust and chemicals primarily involving your work environment: Exposure in the long run towards chemical, vapor and dust hazards can damage your lungs.

  • Increase in age: The risk of having COPD increases as you age.

  • Genetics: There are individuals who have COPD because of their genetic defect.

How to avoid & control it?

The steps that can be taken to prevent COPD are:


  • Stop smoking cigarettes completely or stay away from cigarette smoke.

  • Wear suitable respiratory protection equipment if you are always exposed to chemicals, combustion fumes and dusts.

How it is detected?

If you have any signs of COPD that have been mentioned, discuss with the doctor about your specific situation. With the advice of a doctor, you can decide whether the screening method is right for you.

COPD can be detected using:

  • Lung function tests: Measures the amount of air you are able to inhale and exhale. This test can also analyze if your lungs deliver sufficient oxygen to your blood.

  • Arterial blood gas analysis: This blood test measures the extent to which your lungs carry oxygen into your blood and remove carbon dioxide.

  • Imaging tests aim to produce images of your lungs to detect any abnormal conditions by using :-

    • CT scan

    • X-ray

How it is treated?

Discuss with your doctor what type of treatment is best for your specific situation.

Among the methods to treat COPD are:

  • Specialized medications: There are many types of medications that are always used to treat signs of COPD and can be consumed in the form of:

    • Oral medication

    • Inhaler

  • Lung therapy such as:

    • Participation in training, education and support programs to help you learn the best way possible to breathe in your condition.

    • Usage of oxygen supply to assist in breathing.

  • Lung volume reduction surgery: Removing part of damaged tissues in the lungs so that breathing can be more efficient.

  • Lung transplant to replace your unhealthy lungs with a healthy one from:

    • A deceased donor

    • A living donor (part of his/her lungs)

  • Bullectomy: Procedure to remove large air spaces formed in the damaged lungs. This can increase airflow during respiration.

When do you need to see a doctor?

  • Make an appointment with your doctor if you recognize signs of COPD.

  • Each hospital has different methods for screening COPD.

  • Discuss the COPD screening with your doctor. Together with a physician, you can decide what is best for you.

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How to get ready with your appointments?

For your preparation, a medical specialist may ask you some questions as follows:

  • Are the signs of your illness occurring continuously or occasionally?

  • How severe are the illness signs on your body?

  • Since when did you begin to experience the signs of the illness?

  • Are you a smoker or an ex-smoker?

  • Do you have family members who have had the disease?

  • What triggers the signs of your illness to be more severe? (if any)

  • What do you usually do to relieve any signs of your illness?



What you can do to prepare before the appointment is:

  • List the signs of your illness.

  • Know any restriction that needs to be done before the appointment. Make sure to ask first what to do before appointment (such as limiting your diet, etc.).

  • List all the medicines, vitamins or supplements you consume.

  • If possible, invite family members or friends to be with you. Sometimes we find it difficult to remember all the information during the appointment. Your companion might just help you with this.

  • List your personal information that can help your doctor in investigating your illness (such as major stresses in your life or any changes in your life recently).

  • List all the questions you would like to ask your doctor.

Here are some general questions that you can ask your doctor:

  • What are the possible causes for signs of illness that appear on me?

  • What method of screening should I take? Do I need to make any necessary arrangements before doing the screening?

  • What is the severity of my illness?

  • Should I get a second doctor's opinion of my condition?

  • What are the treatment options that are suitable for my condition?

  • Are there any side effects for each treatment?

  • How does each treatment option affect my daily life?

  • How big is my possibility of getting completely healed from the disease if I undergo the treatment?

  • Do I need to undergo the treatment immediately without delay?

  • How long will the treatment last?

  • How often should I get examined after treatment?

  • What are the complications that I need to face in the future?

  • What other alternatives are available apart from the medicines you prescribed? (if any)

  • Do I need to make any changes to my lifestyle? What nutrition and level of activity are appropriate for my condition?

  • What else can I do to protect my health?

  • I have other health problems. How can I best manage this situation?

If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask the doctor during your appointment.

Updated: March 23, 2019


  1. Porter, Robert S. The Merck Manual of Patient Symptoms: A Concise, Practical Guide to Etiology, Evaluation and Treatment. Wiley, 2008.

  2. Papadakis, Maxine A., McPhee, Stephen J., Rabow, Michael W. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. 58th ed. McGraw Hill Professional, 2018.

  3. Beirman, Robin., Engel, Roger. An A-Z of Symptoms and Signs. Palgrave Macmillan Australia, 2009.

  4. Griffith, Henry W. Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery. 3rd ed. Body Press/Perigree Books, 1995.

  5. National Health Service. 2019. COPD. []. Accessed 13 March 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. COPD. []. Accessed 16 March 2019.

Specific drugs are used to treat COPD

Spirometry is commonly used for lung function tests

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