Health A-Z

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Clinical Definition

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a term used to refer to a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. All these diseases involve airflow obstruction and breathing-related problems. The typical course of COPD is gradual progression, with airflow lung function worsening. Because COPD adds to the work of the heart, patients sometimes develop cor pulmonale (or an enlarged heart).

In Our Own Words

COPD, the acronym for chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, applies to a family of conditions with the common feature of problematic breathing due to airflow obstruction. Chronic bronchitis involves irritation and inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes (air passages), with coughing and excess mucus.

Most COPD is related to cigarette smoking, although some cases are tied to an inherited condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Alpha-1 antitrypsin normally protects the lungs from elastase, an enzyme that breaks down elastin.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough with mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Sensation of tightness in the chest
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