The Top 10 Questions about COPD and Their Answers

The Top 10 Questions about COPD and Their Answers

When hearing the acronym COPD many different questions and thoughts may go through your head. Like what does the Colorado police department have to do with my personal health? Or Is this one of those spell ICUP tricks? However, COPD is a general term to categorize difficulty with breathing and airflow conditions. The term was first used by William Briscoe at the 9th Aspen Emphysema Conference of 1965. For those of us in Michigan, the disease affects about 7.5% of adults which is slightly higher than the national average of 5.9%. So it is even more important for us to discuss and answer some of the common questions about this condition.

1: What Does COPD stand for?

COPD is an acronym for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This term covers a group of diseases that cause “airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. These include diseases such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, bronchiectasis, bronchiolitis, and cystic fibrosis.

They are not the same but one is a category above the other. Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Similar to how Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body are under the dementia umbrella.  Other diseases under this umbrella term include chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema, and asthma. 

3: Will COPD Kill You?

It depends on the type of condition you have but yes. These conditions affect your body’s ability to take in the required oxygen it needs to function. In less severe cases this won’t have too large of an effect on your health if treated correctly. However, many of these conditions are often progressive and get worse over time, resulting in a large decrease in oxygen in your system which can ultimately lead to death. COPD is especially deadly when paired with other conditions that affect your blood and airways. This includes things such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, and lung cancers. 

4: How Is COPD Diagnosed?

COPD can be diagnosed via a variety of tests and scans. One of them is a lung function test that measures the amount of air you can inhale and exhale and whether your lungs deliver enough oxygen to your blood. A chest x-ray can be used to diagnose emphysema in individuals while also ruling out lung problems or heart failure. A CT scan can also provide similar results and additionally help determine if you might need surgery for COPD. There are also blood tests like Arterial blood gas analysis which measure how well the lungs bring oxygen into your blood and remove carbon dioxide.

With COPD, the airways in your lungs become inflamed and thickened, and the tissue where oxygen is exchanged is destroyed causing a variety of issues and effects across the body. First, these tightened airways lead to difficulty breathing in those with this condition. Sadly this often gets progressively worse over the years or with further exposure to harmful conditions. Furthermore, the destroyed tissues and lack of oxygen will begin to cause other parts of the body to decay and potentially cease to function. This often starts in our extremities such as fingers or toes losing circulation in their capillaries and can progress closer and closer to the lungs/heart.

6: How does COPD Affect Daily Life?

COPD causes issues with breathing. This can make what was once an easy task such as getting across the hall increasingly difficult as you run out of breath more easily. You still may be able to drive yourself to the store or to your errands but pushing around a cart or walking around the store will likely become more difficult as you pause to catch your breath. The same goes for attempting to go up and down stairs or large inclines. You may also experience difficulty maintaining yourself and your surroundings. You may no longer have the energy to clean around your home or the increased difficulty may result in agitation. Services such as housekeepers, home care, and volunteer caregivers (often from your local senior services) can assist in decreasing the stress and anxiety related to this limitation. 

7: When COPD is life-threatening?

When COPD enters its end stage, stage 4, it can become fatal. It typically takes an individual a few years of living with the disease to get to this point. This stage is where the lung damage caused by COPD has taken a large toll on your body and severely limits your functions. The aforementioned lack of oxygen can cause you to not be able to feel or uses certain parts of your body. The body eventually has too little oxygen coming into it to function and an individual will pass. 

8: COPD Where does it come from?

COPD often develops due to long-term lung damage from breathing in harmful substances. This can include things such as cigarette smoke and air pollution. Smoking of other sorts such as vaping or marijuana can also lead to the development of COPD. Secondhand exposure to smoke can also lead to lung damage and COPD. The longer and more intensive the exposure, the more likely you are to develop COPD. 

9: Who is most at risk for COPD?

People who smoke have the largest risk of developing COPD. This relation is linear so the more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the more at risk you are. This includes smoking a pipe, cigar, cigarette, and even marijuana. Those exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke are also at risk of developing COPD. 

10: Can COPD be reversed?

Though symptoms can be treated, COPD can not be reversed or cured. The effects can be managed with a variety of treatments and lifestyle changes but can never be fully cured. The first step for treatment is to quit smoking. This is a vital step to prevent COPD from getting worse and prevent your lungs from becoming more damaged. There are plenty of nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum to assist with withdrawal symptoms. The next step is often one of the different types of medication to assist with the symptoms and complications of COPD. This includes short and long-acting bronchodilators which help relax the muscles around your airways. There are also inhaled steroids that can help reduce airway inflammation and are often prescribed for those with frequent and intense symptoms of COPD. There are also types of lung therapies for those with more moderate or severe COPD. The two most common are oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation programs. Oxygen therapy helps deliver an increased amount of oxygen to your lungs to assist with loss of breath. Small and portable units can assist with shortness of breath when out and about in your daily life. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are a combination of exercise training, nutrition advice, education, and counseling. Your doctor will likely refer you to a specialist if this program is recommended. These programs are referred to individuals with worsening COPD and can help prevent hospital readmissions. Finally, there are surgeries available such as lung transplants, bullectomy, and lung volume reduction surgery. 

Bonus: Resources

For those of you who are currently diagnosed with COPD or your loved one is, we have included a list of resources available. The best place to start to educate yourself is the Mayo Clinic and CDC websites. Both feature a wealth of information for further study and assistance. Our next suggestion is to visit the National Institutes of Health website and look at their Learn More Breathe Better program. This program aims to assist individuals with COPD alleviate their symptoms and find local treatment options. This program also provides a toolkit for caregivers of COPD loved ones. 


Hopefully, this article did not only inform you but also answer some of your own lingering questions about Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We recommend you talk things over with your primary care provider if you are having difficulty breathing or have concerns about your COPD. We also have a list of breathing exercises you can do to assist in strengthening your lungs here.