COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

This is a group of lung diseases that affect breathing by destroying lung tissue and/or blocking airways with inflammation and mucous.

This is a group of lung diseases that affect breathing by destroying lung tissue and/or blocking airways with inflammation and mucous.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of diseases that interfere with normal breathing. It is a progressive condition characterized by narrowing and obstruction in the airways due to inflammation (swelling). This inflammation leads to permanent lung damage. When lung damage occurs, it decreases the lung's ability to provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the blood. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common forms of COPD.

  • Emphysema is the destruction of lung tissue, especially the walls of the air sacs in the lungs.
  • Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the air passages in the lungs. The inflammation leads to increased amounts of mucous and a chronic cough.

Cigarette smoking accounts for up to 90 percent of all cases of COPD. Other causes include:

  • Exposure to occupational dust/chemicals and air pollution (indoor and outdoor)
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare hereditary condition. This genetic disorder can cause emphysema in nonsmokers and increase the risk of emphysema in smokers.

COPD is a progressive condition, which means it gets worse as time passes. Early in the course of the disease people do not always know they have the condition. However, the blockage and destruction of the lung tissue increases with time and leads to worsening symptoms. Some of the symptoms of COPD include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty “catching” your breath, especially with any exertion• Wheezing and chest tightness
  • A chronic cough, often associated with mucus or phlegm
  • Tiredness
  • Frequent respiratory infections

If you have symptoms of COPD, contact your healthcare provider. He or she will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. They may prescribe an inhaler, a nebulizer and/or oxygen to help improve your breathing. The main goal of the medications is to decrease the inflammation in your lungs and open up the airways. (Antibiotics may also be needed if you have a bacterial infection in your lungs or airways.) Your healthcare provider may also recommend tests to see how well your lungs are working.

  • Spirometry is a test used to measure the flow of air into your lungs and how much air your lungs can hold. This can help determine the severity of your COPD and monitor its progression. Spirometry may also be done before and after certain medications (bronchodilators) are given. This can help determine how reversible the lung condition might be.
  • Arterial blood gas is a blood test that measures the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency screening is a test to see if someone is at high risk for COPD because of a deficiency of this enzyme.
  • Exercise studies may be done to see how you handle varying degrees of exercise.
  • Chest x-rays are often done at the time of diagnosis as a baseline. If you have worsening symptoms, they may also be done to rule out pneumonia or other diseases.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of COPD.

  • Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations)
  • Bring a list of your medications (including over-the-counter)
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What are my treatment options? Are there any alternatives? What are the risks?
  • Are you recommending any tests? Will the test results change my treatment plan? If not, why do I need the test?
  • When might I start to see improvement in my symptoms?
  • How can I prevent further damage to my lungs?
  • What are my follow-up plans? What symptoms should I report before my next appointment?
  • If you are a smoker, ask about smoking cessation programs in your area. Ask about other ways you might be able to stop smoking.

Make sure you understand your treatment plan, any possible alternatives, and what medications are recommended (including possible side effects).


Also known as:

Productive Cough
Green Phlegm
COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic Bronchitis
Blood Tinged Phlegm
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