Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness.
Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, breathlessness, frequent coughing that produces mucus, tightness in your chest and wheezing�all of which get worse over time. Eventually, you may have trouble exercising or walking because your muscles are not getting the oxygen they need to thrive.
You may also be more vulnerable to infections like the flu and pneumonia, says Karin Hehenberger, M.D., Ph.D., a health and wellness expert in New York City. “This is due to the airways getting narrower and less elastic, which makes it hard to clear out mucus in the lungs.” That’s why, if you have COPD, it’s critical to get the flu and pneumonia vaccines.
Lower extremity edema (swelling) in a patient with COPD is usually a sign of cor pulmonale (pulmonary hypertension and right-sided heart failure). COPD makes the heart work harder, especially the right side, which pumps blood into the lungs. Because of poor gas exchange in COPD, there are decreased amounts of oxygen in the blood causing blood vessels to constrict. Many of the capillaries surrounding the alveoli are destroyed in the disease process making the heart work harder to force blood through fewer constricted blood vessels. As a result of this effort, the right ventricle becomes enlarged, the walls of the heart thicken, and the chamber eventually loses its ability to contract efficiently.
The most important test for diagnosing COPD is called spirometry. For this, you blow into a tube connected to a machine that measures how much air you can blow out and how quickly. In addition, your doctor may order a chest x-ray and an arterial blood test to measure the oxygen level in your blood.