A History of COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the leading killers in the world as well as one of the most common causes of death right here in the United States; and its long history spans over the course of the past 200 years.

COPD is a condition in which the airways are obstructed and includes a group of potentially very dangerous and progressive lung disorders such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma.

Although treatments for COPD have become much more advanced throughout the years, COPD was originally discovered through the use of a stethoscope and spirometer, both of which remain very effective tools for diagnosing COPD today.

Theophile Bonet, a Swiss physician whose research included over 3,000 autopsies, first described COPD as “voluminous lungs” in 1679. Unlike today, at that time, smoking was not prevalent (or the main cause of COPD), so Bonet largely attributed the cause of COPD to pollution in the air. He also stated that the lungs in patients with emphysema were larger and he described them as “turgid,” causing shortness of breath.

In 1789, a series of illustrations depicting the pathology of emphysema were published. Then, in 1814, British physician Charles Badham described bronchitis as inflammatory changes within the mucous membrane; and the chronic cough and increased mucous secretion of chronic bronchitis also became associated with COPD. 

Dr. Rene Laennec, who invented the stethoscope and became known as “The Father of Chest Medicine,” published “Treatise of Diseases of the Chest” in 1821. These writings further explained emphysema as “excessively inflated lungs that do not empty well.” Laennec also described emphysema as tissue changes in the peripheral air passages. He said that emphysema breaks down tissues in the lungs, whereas chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma are caused by trapped air from lung obstruction.

In 1837, Irish physician and Professor at the University of Dublin William Stokes realized that inflammation of the mucus membrane dilated cells, thereby making breathing difficult.

In 1846, John Hutchinson invented the spirometer, which measures the capacity for air within the lungs, but it wasn’t until later in the 1900s when more major advances in COPD research were made.

In 1962, COPD components were actually defined by the American Thoracic Society Committee on Diagnostic Standards. Their statement released defined bronchitis as a chronic cough lasting three months over the course of at least two years and emphysema as enlarged alveolar spaces and loss of alveolar walls. And it is believed that a man named William Briscoe was the first person to actually use the term Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in his presentation at the Aspen Emphysema Conference in 1965.

The only therapies for COPD in earlier history were the antibiotics used to treat pneumonia, mucus thinners like potassium iodine and bronchodilators, which are drugs used to widen the bronchi – typically inhaled to alleviate asthma symptoms. Then there were also sedatives prescribed to treat the side effects of the bronchodilator.

Here are some interesting and somewhat hard to believe facts. Unfortunately, in the past, oxygen administration was advised against, as were steroids, which were also thought to have possible dangerous effects. Exercising was also discouraged, as it was believed to put undue strain on an already strained heart.

In the 1960s, isoproterenol – a selective beta 2 agonist – came into play for treatment. The translation of that is that isoproterenol, which – believe it or not – is also used to treat shock victims, was a medication often used to treat abnormal heart rates, weak hearts and heart failure. It was specifically used for the infrequent treatment of asthma and the more common treatment of heart blockages and bradycardia, which is a condition causing slow heart rate.

Over the course of time, faster acting and longer lasting beta 2 agonists – like formoterol and salmeterol were introduced. Additionally, better anti-mucus agents, such as tiotropium and ipratropium replaced more antiquated and less effective atropine.

Plus, over the last half century and today (thank goodness), oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation have been incorporated into COPD treatment with successful results and research including clinical trials is still being conducted with the goal of uncovering more effective advancements in the diagnosis, medicine to treat, therapeutics, rehabilitation, procedures, prevention and hopefully even the cure of COPD. One of the pioneers in COPD clinical research is the Riverside Clinical Research facility in Edgewater, Florida. 

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an insidious condition that can cause symptoms that very negatively affect the quality of life…including shortness of breath and even difficulty catching your breath, as well as chest tightness, coughing and wheezing, frequent lung infections, change in appetite that can result in potentially dangerous weight loss; and in severe cases of COPD, patients can experience confusion, fainting, trouble speaking, swelling of legs, ankles and feet and more. 

If you would like to aid Riverside Clinical Research in its endeavors to improve the lives of patients who suffer from the symptoms of COPD by becoming a clinical trial volunteer, please feel free to contact Riverside Clinical Research for more information. You can reach us at 386-428-7730 Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.; or email any questions to info@riversideclinicalresearch.com. You can also learn more about the clinical research trials at Riverside Clinical Research by accessing our patient portal which can be found on our website – riversideclinicalresearch.com.