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What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease in which the airways narrow, causing shortness of breath and decreased exercise capacity. It is characterized by 'emphysema' (in which reduced elasticity of lung tissues causes air to become trapped within the lungs) and 'chronic bronchitis' (i.e. chronic cough and excessive mucus production). Generally, COPD worsens over time and is prone to flare-ups in which symptoms suddenly get worse for a while. These 'acute exacerbations' tend to occur after chest infections or exposure to air pollutants.

The reduced airflow in COPD makes it harder to breathe, especially to breathe out (or 'expire'). Consequently, more energy than normal is spent on this basic bodily function. Furthermore, due to the trapped air, less oxygen is delivered to your muscles making them work less efficiently. The oxygen starvation affects muscles used to breathe as well as those involved in movement. Your heart will also be affected as this is made of muscle tissue. Exercise and activities become harder. If you reduce your activity levels in response to these changes a vicious cycle is triggered because disuse causes muscle strength to be lost, worsening the breathing problems and weakness.

Complications of COPD include an increased risk of lung infections (such as pneumonia), osteoporosis, diabetes and glaucoma. Similarly, weight loss and nutritional abnormalities are common in COPD. If malnutrition develops it can worsen your COPD and already weakened muscles can be harmed further by 'metabolic catabolism' whereby your body uses proteins stored within the muscle to provide energy to your body.

For more information on this subject please click on the following links:

How common is COPD?
What causes COPD?
What are the symptoms and signs of COPD?
How is COPD diagnosed?
How is COPD treated?

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