COPD is a chronic lung condition. Symptoms usually don’t appear until severe lung damage has occurred, and they often worsen over time, particularly if smoking exposure remains. For chronic bronchitis, the principal symptom is a daily cough and mucus (sputum) production at least three months in a year during two consecutive years.
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Other signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
Color blue of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)
Frequent respiratory infections
Lack of energy
Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
Need to unblock your throat first thing in the morning, because of excess mucus in your lungs
A chronic cough that may create mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
People with COPD are also prone to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their manifestations become worse than usual day-to-day and persist for at least several days.
The leading cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. In the developing world, COPD often happens in people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly vented homes.
About 20 to 30 percent of regular smokers might develop clinically apparent COPD, although many smokers with long smoking histories may have reduced lung function. Some smokers develop less normal lung conditions. These individuals may be misdiagnosed as having COPD until they get further evaluation.
How your lungs are affected
Air flows down your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs through two large tubes (bronchi). Inside your lungs, these tubes split many times, similar to the branches of a tree, into many smaller tubes (bronchioles) that end in groups of tiny air sacs (alveoli).
The air sacs have fragile walls full of little blood vessels (capillaries). The oxygen in the inhaled air passes through these blood vessels and enters the bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide is exhaled.
Your lungs rely on the natural flexibility of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to push air out of your body. COPD makes them lose their elasticity and overextend, which leaves some air trapped in your lungs when you exhale.
Causes of airway obstruction include:
Emphysema. This lung disease leads to the destruction of the fragile lining and elastic tissues of the alveoli. Small airways collapse when you exhale, failing to let airflow out of your lungs.
Chronic bronchitis. Your bronchial tubes become swollen and narrowed and your lungs produce more phlegm, which can further block the narrowed tubes. You start developing a chronic cough attempting to clear your airways.
Cigarette smoke and other irritants
In the large majority of cases, the lung damage that leads to COPD is produced by long-term cigarette smoking. But there might be likely other factors at play in the development of COPD, such as a genetic susceptivity to the illness because only about 20 to 30 percent of smokers might develop COPD.
Other irritants can generate COPD, including cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, air pollution and workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes.