"As with any chronic disease, early and correct diagnosis is important for several reasons. It is especially important to distinguish those folks with asthma, versus COPD, versus the 10-20% with overlap of both diseases. Treatment for these diseases uses many of the same medications, but order of use is very different and can lead to major complications if used inappropriately." - Albee Budnitz, MD, FACP, FCCP
In nearly all cases, COPD is caused by long-term inhalation of lung irritants that damage the lungs and airways. The most common irritant is cigarette smoke. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke can also cause COPD, especially if the smoke is inhaled directly or from secondhand smoke.
Breathing in secondhand smoke, air pollutants or chemical fumes or dust in the home and workplace environment can also contribute to COPD.
Rarely, a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency may play a role in causing COPD. People who have this condition have low levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), a protein made in the liver. Having a low level of the AAT protein can lead to lung damage and COPD if a person with this condition is exposed to smoke or other lung irritants. COPD can worsen very quickly in smokers who have AAT deficiency.
Early detection is critical in determining the progress of COPD and achieving better health outcomes for the patient. A simple test called spirometry is used to measure lung function and confirm diagnosis. Classification of the severity of COPD is based on post-bronchodilator spirometry.
While COPD has no cure yet, treatment is available to manage symptoms, to slow the progress of the disease and to improve the patient's quality of life. The goals of effective COPD management include:
Treatment options include (Treatments are added at greater degrees of severity):
People with COPD often live with other diseases or comorbidities such as asthma, diabetes, congestive heart disease or mental health diseases. It is recommended that health care providers actively identify these comorbidities in COPD patients since they often complicate the clinical management of the disease and can contribute to the overall severity of the disease.