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  1. Medical Service

    Head & Neck Surgery

    The Brooklyn Hospital Center's Division of Head and Neck Surgery manages the diagnosis and surgical treatment of benign and malignant tumors of the head and neck. Staffed by a team of highly capable sur ...

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    Otolaryngology (ENT)

    ring, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech and language. Common ENT Conditions and Services head and neck inf ... cer papillomas spasmodic dysphonia throat infections vocal fold nodules Head ...

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    Pediatric Surgery

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    Neuroscience Center

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    Allergy & Immunology

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    Plastic Surgery

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    Nuclear Medicine

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    Pediatric Genetics

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    Speech & Hearing

    rehabilitation for head and neck cancer patients Voice disorders (vocal nod ...


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    Cancer Care

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    Cared For — Body and Mind

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    Otolaryngology (ENT)

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to chronic lung disorders that result in blocked air flow in the lungs. The two main COPD disorders are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the most common causes of respiratory failure. Both result from damage to the lungs over many years and predominantly affect former and current smokers. Emphysema occurs when the walls between the lung's air sacs become weakened and collapse. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the airways in the lungs become swollen and partially clogged with mucus. Chronic bronchitis may also involve muscle spasms in the airways. Many people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with over 11 million Americans diagnosed with it (and probably at least that many who have it and are not diagnosed), and over 120,000 Americans dying from it annually (beginning in 2002, more women than men). Asthma and COPD are considered different medical problems. Patients with COPD may also wheeze. The damage to the airways from COPD usually is more permanent and irreversible.

"I was so scared when I first learned I had COPD. I had no idea what it was, much less what to expect or how to cope."

-- Charlie, age 72

What causes COPD?

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of COPD, accounting for 80 - 90% of COPD deaths. Women smokers are nearly 13 times as likely to die from COPD as are women who have never smoked. Men smokers are nearly 12 times as likely to die from COPD as men who have never smoked. Cigarettes contain many hazardous substances that damage the lung when inhaled, including tar nicotine, carbon monoxide, and cyanide. Long-term exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, air pollution, and repeated respiratory infections also can increase a person's risk for COPD. Industrial exposures, such as toxic fumes or dust, can significantly increase a person's risk of COPD as well.

What are the symptoms?

COPD has three main symptoms: coughing, breathlessness, and wheezing.

COPD is often diagnosed in the doctor's office when patients complain of difficulty breathing while doing everyday tasks or complain of a persistent cough. COPD patients often cough up thick or bloody mucus, and their skin may have a bluish tinge caused by lack of oxygen in the blood. If patients develop severe shortness of breath or swelling of the legs or ankles, they require immediate attention, as these symptoms may signify congestive heart failure.

How does a doctor make a diagnosis of COPD?

Although a definite diagnosis of COPD can be difficult, doctors rely on certain assessment procedures to help them diagnose the condition. Your doctor may:

  1. Ask the following questions about your health history
    • What is your smoking history?
    • Do you suffer from shortness of breath?
    • What worsens your shortness of breath?
    • Do you cough?
    • Do you cough up mucus, and if so, what does it look like?
    • What is your family history of lung disease?
  2. Conduct a spirometry test -- this test is a common and effective way to test your lungs. Your doctor will ask you to blow as long and as hard as you can into a small tube attached to a machine. The machine measures how much air you can blow out in one second. The more obstructed the airways, the less air you can blow out.
  3. Order blood tests and chest x-rays -- blood tests measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, which denote how efficiently your lungs are working. Chest x-rays can help determine if there is fluid in the lungs or other damage.

How is COPD treated?

Although the damage caused by emphysema is irreversible, some of the effects of chronic bronchitis can be partially improved. The progression of COPD and the severity of the symptoms might be managed through the following methods:



American Lung Association: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Fact Sheet (Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema). 2006 August.


Review Date: 6/29/2012
Reviewed By: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine UMDNJ-NJMS, Attending Physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Previoulsy reviewed by David A. Kaufman, MD, Section Chief, Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Bridgeport Hospital-Yale New Haven Health System, and Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. (6/1/2010)
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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    Orthopaedic Services

    of the foot, knee, shoulder, hip, hand or other joints. We also treat bone ... advanced reconstructive surgery of the foot, ankle, knee and sho ... er ligament tears Foot and Ankle achilles tendonitis and tears peroneal ten ...

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    The Division of Podiatry offers high-quality, state-of-the-art therapies to treat a wide range of foot and ankle disorders. Conditions Treated at The Brooklyn Hospital Center ingrown toenails ankle sprains ...

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  7. Simulation Center

    TBHC has developed a multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art Simulation Facility where residents receive training on laparoscopy, intubation, central line placement, code simulations and obstetric deliveries.   ...

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    Healthy Back 2 School Fair!

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    Saturday in the Park! Annual health fair in Fort Greene Park helps us keep Brooklyn healthy.

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    Saturday In The Park-- TBHC Health Fair Emphasizes Wellness and Prevention

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