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Improve your quality life through COPD care

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

If you have COPD, it’s important you get proper care to protect your lungs. We’re here to help you reduce flare-ups, keep you healthy and get you back to the things you love.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. COPD worsens over time and the damage it creates to the lungs is permanent, so it’s important to get proper treatment to prevent further damage.

The two main types of COPD are:

  • Chronic bronchitis: With chronic bronchitis, the airways (also known as bronchial tubes) that bring air to your lungs become inflamed, resulting in a long-term cough with mucus and shortness of breath.
  • Emphysema: Emphysema causes damage to the air sacs (also known as alveoli) in the lungs, making it difficult for them to stretch and work properly when you breathe. With less air going in and out of your lungs, you feel short of breath.

Symptoms of COPD

While one of the first signs of COPD is shortness of breath, some people may not experience symptoms until the disease is more advanced.

Other symptoms may include:

  • A persistent cough
  • A cough with mucus or phlegm
  • Wheezing when you breathe
  • Frequent colds
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Swollen feet, ankles or legs
  • Blue lips or fingernails

Causes of COPD

Certain behaviors and risk factors can increase your chances of developing COPD. These include:

  • Smoking: This is the most common cause of COPD. You can also develop COPD from breathing in secondhand smoke.
  • Pollution and fumes: Those who breathe in chemical fumes, dust or toxic substances at work (or in daily life) are at a higher risk of developing COPD.
  • Asthma: Those who have asthma that isn’t well managed are at a higher risk of developing COPD.
  • Age: Most people are 40 years or older when their COPD symptoms appear.
  • Infections: If you have had a lot of respiratory infections, your chances of developing COPD are greater.

Diagnosing COPD

Our team of pulmonologists (lung doctors) and respiratory therapists are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating COPD.

Your doctor will start by discussing your symptoms with you, listening to your lungs for wheezing and may perform further tests to confirm your diagnosis. Tests may include:

  • Spirometry – One of the most common ways to diagnose COPD, this lung function test allows your doctor to measure the amount of air you breathe in and out. During this test, you’ll be asked to take a deep breath in and blow into a mouthpiece connected to a small device. This device will test how fast you blow air out of your lungs.
  • Chest X-ray – This allows your doctor to see the condition of your lungs, heart and blood vessels. With the image created during your X-ray, your doctor can see if there are any issues with your lungs.
  • Chest CT scan – Like an X-ray, a computed tomography (CT) scan also creates an image of your chest but shows more detail, so your doctor can get a closer look.
  • Blood test – Your doctor may order a blood test called an arterial blood gas analysis. This shows them how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in your blood. A low level of oxygen in your blood may be a sign of COPD or another lung disease.

Treatment for COPD

If you’re diagnosed with COPD, we’ll work with you to create a treatment plan that’s focused on helping you reduce flare-ups and breathe better.

Depending on your situation, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended:

Lifestyle changes

If you smoke, your doctor will recommend that you quit as soon as possible. Quitting smoking will help keep your COPD from getting worse. If you’re not sure where to start, your doctor can recommend nicotine replacements or medications to help you quit.

Other lifestyle changes that may help you manage your COPD include:

  • Learning different breathing techniques to ease shortness of breath
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Drinking plenty of water

Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help you manage your COPD. Medications can be taken daily or as needed and may include short- or long-acting bronchodilators (often in the form of inhalers), inhaled steroids, oral steroids or combination inhalers.

Medications used to treat COPD work to relax the muscles around the airways, reduce airway inflammation and ease coughing and shortness of breath.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

A team of pulmonologists, nurses, dietitians and respiratory therapists will work with you to help you learn how to better manage your COPD. Pulmonary rehab can help you find relief from your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Oxygen therapy

If you aren’t getting enough oxygen in your blood, your doctor may recommend that you use supplemental oxygen (like a small, portable oxygen tank). Based on your condition, you may need to use oxygen all the time or some of the time.

If other treatments aren’t working to effectively manage your COPD, or if your condition is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgical options include:

  • Bullectomy – When the walls of your air sacs are destroyed by COPD, large spaces in your lungs called bullae develop, making it difficult to breathe. During a bullectomy, your surgeon will remove the bullae from your lungs to help you breathe better.
  • Lung volume reduction surgery – During this surgery, your surgeon will remove small pieces of tissue from your lungs that have been damaged by COPD. Doing so creates space for healthy lung tissue to expand, helping to improve your breathing.
  • Lung transplant – If the damage to your lungs is severe, your doctor may suggest a lung transplant, which involves removing your lung and replacing it with a healthy donor lung.

COPD care at Geisinger

Whether your COPD is mild or severe, our pulmonology team can help slow the decline in your lung function and manage symptoms. We offer:

  • Knowledge and experience – Your pulmonology team’s combined years of experience and research give them the expertise necessary to diagnose, treat and help you manage COPD. Learn more about our pulmonologists.
  • Personalized care – When you need treatment for COPD, our pulmonology team will work one on one with you to create a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific needs. With proper treatment and management of COPD, you can breathe easier and slow the damage to your lungs.
  • Convenient locations and appointments – With pulmonologists available in Geisinger clinics and hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, you don’t have to travel far to get the care you need. We also offer extended clinic hours and minimal wait times to be seen, so you get care that’s convenient for you.
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