Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is
a term used to describe 2 related lung diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation and eventual scarring
of the bronchi (airway tubes). Emphysema is enlargement and destruction of the alveoli (air sacs) within the lungs. Many persons with COPD have both
of these conditions.
Persons with COPD have difficulty breathing because they develop smaller
air passageways and have partially destroyed alveoli. The air passageways
also become clogged with mucus, a slimy substance.
Smoking cigarettes is the most important risk factor and cause of COPD. About
80% to 90% of COPD cases are caused by smoking, and a smoker is 10 times more
likely than a nonsmoker to die of COPD. The November 5, 2003, issue of JAMA includes an article about treatments for COPD.
Increased sputum (mucus coughed from
Shortness of breath
Limitation of physical activity
Stopping smoking—extremely important to prevent worsening
of the disease
Bronchodilators—medications, often taken by an inhaler,
that help open air passageways in the lungs
Corticosteroids—medications taken by inhaler to counteract
inflammation in the air passages and lungs
Oxygen—can help patients with COPD who have a hard time
getting enough oxygen; often stored in a portable tank
Antibiotics—can be helpful for fighting bacterial infections
that make symptoms of COPD worse
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (301) 592-8573http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
American Lung Association 800/LUNG-USA ( 800/586-4872)http://www.lungusa.org
To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link
on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient
Page on quitting smoking was published in the July 24/31, 2002, issue; and
one on lung disease was published in the April 12, 2000, issue.
Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Lung Association;
American Heart Association
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are
appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis.
For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page
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TOPIC: LUNG DISEASE
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. JAMA. 2003;290(17):2362. doi:10.1001/jama.290.17.2233