We’re sharing all the details on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). From causes and risk factors to diagnosis and treatment, MainStreet Family Care has the info you need to live an active, healthy life with COPD.

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What is COPD?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe and gradually gets worse with time. There is currently no cure for COPD, but there are treatments that can delay the worsening of the disease and symptoms.

A diagnosis of COPD means you have:

  • Chronic bronchitis,
  • Emphysema, or
  • Both.

Some sources include asthma in COPD, but most experts agree asthma is different because it has other causes and does not usually worsen over time. It is possible to have COPD and asthma.

Chronic Bronchitis

In chronic bronchitis, the airways become inflamed and swollen, decreasing their size. The inflammation and swelling cause mucus to build up, further reducing the size of the airway. All of this makes it harder to breathe.

In healthy lungs, microscopic hair-like structures called cilia exist. Cilia beat together in a wave-like motion to move foreign particles, germs, and mucus up to the mouth, and then you clear them by coughing or sneezing. In chronic bronchitis, cilia are damaged, making it difficult to clear the mucus buildup.


You have tiny air sacs at the bottom of your lungs called alveoli. Alveoli are responsible for transferring the oxygen you breathe to your bloodstream. Your bloodstream then carries this oxygen throughout your body to all your organs and cells. At the same time, the alveoli remove carbon dioxide, a waste product, from your bloodstream, and you get rid of it when you exhale.

When you have emphysema, your alveoli are damaged. This makes it hard to take a deep breath, get enough oxygen to your organs and cells, and get rid of the carbon dioxide in your body.

What are Causes and Risk Factors for COPD?

Smoking is the number one cause and risk factor for COPD. However, your genetics also play a role in developing COPD. Some people may smoke all their lives and never develop COPD, and 25 percent of people with COPD have never smoked.

Additional known causes of COPD include:

  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency – a genetic disorder responsible for about 1 percent of COPD cases.
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical, dust, and fume exposure
  • Second-hand smoke

Risk factors for COPD include:

  • Female gender
  • History of asthma
  • History of childhood respiratory infections
  • History of underdeveloped lungs at birth
  • Older age

You cannot change your age or history, but you can reduce your risk by not smoking, avoiding the outdoors on high-pollution days, and wearing a mask when exposed to chemicals, dust, and fumes.

What are Symptoms of COPD?

Symptoms of COPD usually start gradually and may go unnoticed at first. Nearly half of people with COPD are undiagnosed because they have disregarded their symptoms as signs of getting older.

The most common early COPD symptoms include:

  • A chronic cough with mucus. This is usually worse in the morning.
  • Difficulty taking deep breaths.
  • Feeling more tired.
  • Shortness of breath while doing regular daily activities, such as carrying groceries, dressing, and showering or bathing.
  • Shortness of breath with mild activity, such as walking from the parking lot to a store or climbing stairs.
  • Weight gain from avoiding activities that cause shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing or chest tightness.

Later signs of COPD may include:

  • Barrell Chest occurs when the lungs are chronically overinflated. When viewed from the side, the depth of the chest appears wider than normal.
  • Clubbing of the fingers is an enlarged and more rounded appearance of the fingertips. This is a long-term effect of not getting enough oxygen to your extremities.
  • Unintended weight loss may occur because COPD makes it difficult to breathe while eating.

If you notice any of these symptoms, MainStreet Family Care can help. It’s important to diagnose COPD early to start treatment and delay the progression of symptoms. Register online for a primary care patient portal account and schedule an appointment through your patient portal. We’re open seven days a week for your convenience!

How is COPD Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your personal medical history, including:

  • Chronic coughing,
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath,
  • Exposure to smoking, air pollution, and other irritants,
  • Shortness of breath or tiredness with activity and
  • Unintended weight gain or loss.

Your provider will also ask about your family’s medical history and perform a physical exam. If you have symptoms of COPD and risk factors, your provider will recommend further testing, which may include:

  • Arterial blood gas analysis measures how well your lungs deliver oxygen throughout your body and how well they remove carbon dioxide.
  • Blood tests to see if you have the genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency.
  • Chest X-ray to look for changes in the lungs caused by COPD.
  • CT scan to look for changes in the lungs caused by COPD that a chest X-ray may not detect and screen for lung cancer.
  • Pulmonary (lung) function tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale.

What is COPD Treatment?

While there is no cure for COPD, you can treat and manage it with medication, pulmonary rehabilitation, and surgery to maintain your quality of life. Your treatment plan will depend on how advanced your COPD is.

COPD Medication

Several medications are used to manage and treat COPD. You and your healthcare provider will decide which medications are right for you.

Examples of COPD medications:

  • Bronchodilators are inhalers that help relieve coughing and make breathing easier by relaxing the muscles around your airways.
  • Short-acting bronchodilators are used as needed before you exercise or exert yourself.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators are long-term inhalers used daily.
  • Steroids come in inhaled or pill form. They help you breathe easier by reducing airway inflammation.
  • Supplemental oxygen therapy can help when you cannot get enough oxygen circulating in your lungs and body. Very convenient, portable units are available, allowing you to remain active.
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors work by relaxing the muscles around your airways and decreasing airway inflammation.
  • Theophylline is an older medication that can help improve breathing if other medicines are not working or are too expensive.

Some inhalers combine bronchodilators and steroids for easier administration when both are needed.

Having COPD puts you at higher risk of complications from common respiratory illnesses like the flu and pneumonia. MainStreet Family Care recommends you get influenza and pneumonia vaccines to reduce your chances of contracting these illnesses and reduce the severity of your symptoms.

Antibiotics and antivirals are commonly prescribed for COPD patients with bacterial and viral respiratory infections such as pneumonia or influenza.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Your healthcare provider may refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs are excellent sources to help you maintain your quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation will provide you with the following:

  • Education about COPD and how it affects you.
  • Exercises that help you maintain your strength and control your breathing.
  • Nutrition counseling to help you maintain your health and weight.
  • Support and resources for living with COPD.


In more advanced stages of COPD, three surgical options are available to treat the disease and improve quality of life.

  • Bullectomy is a procedure in which large air spaces called bullae are removed. Bullae are dead spaces of the lung that form when alveoli are destroyed. Removing the bullae improves airflow.
  • Lung transplantation may be an option for COPD patients who meet transplant criteria. This involves removing damaged lungs and replacing them with healthy donor lungs but requires life-long medications to prevent your body from rejecting the new organ. This is a major surgery with serious risks that you must be healthy enough to recover from.
  • Lung volume reduction surgery removes small sections of damaged lung tissue to allow healthy lung tissue to expand.

Living with COPD

You can still live an active and fulfilling life with COPD. Avoid smoking and other pollutants and irritants such as chemicals, dust, and fumes to protect your lungs from further damage.

Work with your healthcare provider to find the proper medications and therapies to maintain and prolong your quality of life. It is important to see your healthcare provider regularly to monitor your health status and notify them immediately if you experience worsening shortness of breath. This could be a sign of a COPD exacerbation or respiratory infection that should be treated immediately.

Turn to MainStreet Family Care

Concerned about COPD symptoms? MainStreet Family Care clinics are here to help! We offer primary care services, often with same-day or next-day appointments available, and we’re open seven days a week!

Register online for a primary care patient portal account and schedule an appointment through your patient portal. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Sign Up Now! 

Step 1: Signup for the Patient Portal 

Step 2: Schedule Your First Appointment 

Register New Patient Portal Account

If you already have a portal account, simply log in.