COPD Symptoms and What They Can Mean

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and is an umbrella term for a group of lung conditions that are characterized by difficulty breathing. These conditions are life-long and can include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma, and they can progressively worsen over time. 

The main causes of COPD in order of commonality are smoking, inhaling pollutants from the air in our environment and prolonged exposure to toxins and dusts within the work environment. Genetics and infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis can also increase the risk of COPD.

COPD may develop over the years without detection, but as the severity of COPD symptoms increase, they may include shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, congestion, tight chest, lung infections, loss of appetite and weight loss. Symptoms which become severe enough to require emergency medical attention may include trouble catching breath, confusion, fainting or blue lips and fingernails due to lack of oxygen, increased heart rate, trouble speaking and swelling in the lower extremities. Each of these symptoms can negatively affect quality of life, and as they worsen, they may even become life-threatening.

Diagnosis often requires lab testing and imaging. One of the most common tests is spirometry, which measures how much air patients are able to inhale and exhale and whether the lungs deliver enough oxygen to the blood. 

During this particular test, patients are asked to blow into a large tube which is connected to a machine that will measure oxygen volume. 

Other lung function tests may include walking tests, which usually last about six minutes and pulse oximetry, which is a test for precise measurement of oxygen within the blood.

Chest x-rays can show signs of emphysema and can be used to rule out other lung problems and heart failure. 

CT lung scans are also used to detect emphysema, as well as help to determine if surgery would benefit the patient. CT scans of the lungs are also used to rule out lung cancer. 

Arterial blood gas analysis can measure how effectively the lungs transport oxygen and remove carbon dioxide throughout the blood.

Lab tests, used to test for certain genetic deficiencies, may also be required if patients develop COPD at a young age or have a family history of COPD. 

Doctors you may be referred to by your primary physician could include a pulmonologist, who specializes in the diseases and treatment of the lungs, and a thoracic surgeon, if a biopsy or any surgery related to the lungs is needed.

COPD is extremely common, with more than 3 million cases every year in the United States alone. It is incurable, but there are treatments which can help manage COPD symptoms, including medication, therapy and even surgery.

Medical procedures can include a lung transplant or a bullectomy. Normal lungs are made up of tiny air sacs called alveoli. These sacs help transfer oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream. A bullectomy is surgery to help COPD patients breathe easier by removing large areas of damaged air sacs in the lungs that don’t absorb or transfer oxygen. They just take up space.  Bullae can put pressure on lungs, making it difficult to breathe and, if they release air, they can even collapse your lungs. Bullectomies are often recommended once the bullae take up to 20-30 percent of lung space.

Therapies used to treat COPD patients include oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation… 

Adequate amounts of oxygen are absorbed in healthy individuals. However, individuals suffering from COPD cannot always absorb enough oxygen. Oxygen therapy is the administration of supplemental oxygen to help manage COPD.

Pulmonary rehabilitation, also referred to as respiratory rehabilitation, can also play an important role in the management and health maintenance of those with COPD. Evidence-based and multidisciplinary, pulmonary rehabilitation combines exercise, education and support (for family members as well) in a comprehensive program. The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to help COPD patients learn to breathe and function at the most optimal levels possible.

Common medications used to treat the symptoms of COPD are bronchodilators, which are used to relax muscles in the airways to improve breathing. These generally come in the form of inhalers such as albuterol, metaproterenol, levalbuterol, and pirbuterol. Glucocorticosteriods, like beclomethasone, betamethasone, budesonide, cortisone and dexamethasone, can help to reduce inflammation in the airways. Antibiotics can also be prescribed to prevent or treat lung infections.

Riverside Clinical Research, an award winning medical research facility, combined with the services of paid clinical trial volunteers, helps to shape a brighter future and make our world a better place.  

Riverside Clinical Research is currently conducting clinical research on COPD. If you would like to do your part to improve the efficacy of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COPD, you have any questions or you would simply like more information about the clinical trials at the Riverside Clinical Research facility, you are welcome to call the Riverside Clinical Research professionals for more information 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. We can also be reached by email at Riverside Clinical Research is conveniently located at 1410 S. Ridgewood Avenue in Edgewater, Florida.

Riverside Clinical Research doctors and experienced research professionals work closely with clinical trial volunteers to monitor and assess the benefits and effectiveness of certain treatment. Riverside Clinical Research can support up to 26 in-house patients and a large number of outpatients.