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COPD Emphysema - Medical Malpractice
COPD is also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. It is related to chronic bronchitis, with which it differs because chronic bronchitis has more mucus and inflammation than COPD. All of these conditions are related to poor air outflow and sometimes inflow of the lungs so that the individual comes down with coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and other symptoms. Another related condition is chronic asthmatic bronchitis. All of these condition seem to damage the airways and results in an interference of the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen inside the alveoli and capillaries of the lungs.
COPD is a major cause of death throughout the world. The major causes of the disease are smoking and secondhand smoke. It can be prevented by quitting smoking or, better yet, never smoking at all. Damage that has already been done cannot be repaired but one can prevent further damage to the lungs by quitting smoking.
It takes a lot of damage to the lungs to begin to feel the symptoms of COPD. The symptoms are intermittent for a short period of time and eventually become continuous and chronic. There are different symptoms of COPD depending on the person but the main symptoms include shortness of breath with exertion, tightness in the chest, sputum production, chest pain and wheezing.
Chronic bronchitis is almost always exclusive to smoking or past smoking. There is a cough that lasts at least three months per year and lasts for a total of two years in order to be called chronic bronchitis. If you quit smoking, the chronic bronchitis improves somewhat. The major symptoms include clearing one's throat quite often, having a yellowish or bloody sputum, shortness of breath and a cough. The sputum production is prominent and you tend to get recurrent colds, respiratory infections and acute pneumonia.
Chronic asthmatic bronchitis has all of the symptoms of chronic bronchitis with the addition of frequent wheezing due to spasm of the bronchial tree. The wheezing can be sporadic or can occur on a regular basis. Air is trapped behind collapsed bronchial passages so you wheeze and have lung distension because air is not getting out of the lungs properly.
If you have emphysema, the lungs are inflamed, including the alveolae at the end of the bronchial tree. The outflow of the air is blocked and mucus builds up in the alveolae and in the bronchial tree. The mucus need to be coughed up frequently so you tend to cough on a regular basis. The bronchial passages are spasmed and you wheeze frequently.
In general, COPD is caused by long term smoking in those who has smoked at least ten years. It also relates to how many cigarettes per day you have smoked. Other things that can cause COPD include pipe smoking, cigar smoking, secondhand smoke, occupational fume and chemical exposure and air pollution. In fact, even acid reflux can contribute to the disease by allowing acid to damage the bronchial tree. This triggers wheezing and other symptoms of COPD. In rare cases, the hereditary alpha-1 antitrypsin disease can result in COPD. It is an autosomal recessive disease with penetrance even if you have inherited one of the affected alleles.
Good tests for emphysema include doing pulmonary function studies or spirometry. These include breathing into a tube and measuring the air flow through the bronchial tree. A chest x-ray can also be done to see if there is heart failure or scar tissue in the lungs. Blood gases can be determined that tell if there is CO2 retention or if the oxygenation is normal or not. Sputum evaluation can show if there is a secondary infection or a cancer of the lungs. CT scans of the lungs can show some of the same things as a chest x-ray.
There is no cure for COPD but stopping smoking can make a big difference in the outcome of the disease. This can reduce the symptoms immensely. There are medications that those with COPD take including bronchodilator that open up the breathing passages, inhaled or oral steroids to reduce inflammation of COPD and antibiotics for secondary infections. There is a procedure called lung volume reduction surgery which reduces large blebs in the lung and allow the lung to function more clearly. Some patients with emphysema use oxygen to improve the blood level of oxygen and to help exercise better. A lung transplant is a last resort kind of surgery for patients who do not smoke and will never smoke again.LEGAL HELPLINE: ☎ 855 804 7125
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here