COPD stands for Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. And unfortunately, it is progressive. Meaning that it gets worse as time goes on.

When a person suffers from COPD, it can cause them to cough up large amounts of mucus on a consistent, regular basis.

A relatively common disease, approximately 12 million people in the USA have been diagnosed with COPD. Because of its symptoms, many more may be affected and have no clue that this is their issue. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It becomes more common with age. Men are more likely to have the disease, but men and women both have approximately the same death rate.

Most commonly, the cause of COPD is smoking. There are two main forms of it: Chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Frequently, sufferers have a combination of both.

How do the Lungs Work?

To best understand how COPD affects your lungs, it’s a good idea to have a good grasp on how lungs work. So here’s a basic run-down:

Every time you draw breath, air whisks through your windpipe and straight into your bronchial tubes. These bronchial tubes are set inside your lungs, where they branch off like a tree into thousands of smaller tubes called bronchioles. At the end of every bronchiole sits an air sac called an alveoli. These alveoli are like tiny balloons. Whenever you breathe in, they stretch and fill with air. And whenever you breathe out, they shrink back down to their smallest size.

In addition to these pieces of the puzzle, in the walls of those air sacs are little blood vessels called capillaries. When the alveoli fill with air, oxygen rushes into the capillaries to be carried through the blood stream to every part of your body. At the same time, the waste material carbon dioxide passes out of the capillaries into the alveoli. Then as you exhale, the carbon dioxide is flushed out with your breath.

How does COPD Affect Breathing?

So now that you understand how the lungs work, here’s what COPD does to these processes:

  • The alveoli and airways lose their vital ability to stretch.
  • The walls of the alveoli are destroyed.
  • The walls of the airways thicken and are inflamed.
  • The airways become clogged with mucus.

If you suffer from COPD, you may have one of these symptoms, or you may have all of them. The changes reduce airflow in and out of your lungs, which deprives your body of absolutely necessary oxygen.

What are the Forms of COPD?

There are two major forms of COPD.

Chronic Bronchitis: Just like it sounds, this is bronchitis that never goes away. An inflammation of the air passages, in addition to airflow obstruction. It consists of a long-term cough with mucus. This means that it’s on most days of the week, for at least three months, in two years one after the other.

Emphysema: This is a little simpler, where everything is just destroyed. Specifically, it attacks the alveoli.

Both of these forms of COPD damage the airways in devastating ways. And they both impede the absorption of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide.

What’s the Outlook after a Diagnosis of COPD?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD. Neither can doctors reverse the damage it causes. As the disease progresses, simple and daily tasks may become more difficult.

However, with lifestyle changes and the treatments available to you, the progress of COPD can be slowed. It is possible to feel better and stay more active with COPD.

Author's Bio: 

Brian Wu graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology and Neurobiology. Currently, he holds a PhD and is an MD candidate (KSOM, USC) in integrative biology and disease. He is also an experienced writer and editor for a number of prestigious web sites. Brian values the ability of all ages to learn from the power of stories. His mission is to write about health conditions, educational topics and life situations in an entertaining way in order to help children understand their own health conditions and daily circumstances.