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What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)? COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a progressive lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. It is really two diseases in one: chronic bronchitis (which causes inflammation and thick mucus production in the airways of the lungs) and emphysema (which damages the air sacs and alveoli, delicate structures of the lung tissue that allow a person to breathe). In the United States, almost all cases of COPD are caused by smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke. Other causes include occupational exposure to dust, chemicals and pollution, and a rare genetic condition. COPD causes a wet cough that doesn’t go away. It can come with shortness of breath and wheezing, or a tight feeling in the chest. Some people have flare ups where their symptoms get worse, and during this time they can also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and fatigue. There is no cure for COPD, but there are treatments to improve breathing and slow the progression of the disease. The first step is to reduce exposure to what caused COPD in the first place, such as smoking. Medicines such as bronchodilators, usually given in an inhaler, can relax the muscles around the airways and make it easier to breathe. Sometimes they are given along with glucocorticosteroids, drugs that reduce inflammation. Vaccines help prevent respiratory illnesses that can worsen COPD. Oxygen therapy can be used if people aren’t able to get enough oxygen into their lungs on their own. In extreme cases, surgery can be used to remove damaged tissue from the lungs or even perform a lung transplant.
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