Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a multi-stage disease that affects the quality of your breathing and your life. At UPMC Western Maryland, we offer a wide variety of respiratory care services to help manage and treat all stages of COPD.

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What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, known more commonly as COPD, is a multi-stage respiratory disease that involves progressive levels of chronic lung disease, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is associated with frequent respiratory infections and sudden breathing complications known as flare-ups or exacerbations.

How is COPD Diagnosed?

Doctors use spirometry to evaluate a patient’s lung function and their ability to breath normally. Specifically, your doctor will measure your Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) and your Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV-1). FVC is the amount of air you can exhale in one continuous breath. FEV-1 is the amount of air you can exhale in a single second.

With these two measurements, your doctor will be able to identify the severity of your condition and where it falls within the stages of COPD.

What are the Stages of COPD?

The stages of COPD were set by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), and are based on the ratio between a patient’s FEV-1 and FVC results. This ratio is then compared to a baseline for normal breathing function.

Stage 1  Mild FEV-1 is greater or equal to 80% of normal breathing function
Stage 2  Moderate FEV-1 is between 50-79% of normal breathing function
Stage 3  Severe FEV-1 is between 30-49% of normal breathing function
Stage 4  Very Severe FEV-1 is less than 30% normal breathing function

At Stage 1, individuals may notice shortness of breath after a brief exercise, with few other symptoms. Many patients are unaware of their symptoms at this stage, mistaking mild coughs and phlegm as a minor cold.

At Stage 2, individuals will begin to notice that they have shortness of breath while at rest or during everyday activities. Coughing and other symptoms will become more apparent and disruptive, causing increased concern.

At Stage 3, breathing will become increasingly difficult as it begins to take a toll on the individual’s quality of life. They may feel fatigued by minor tasks, to the point where they do not have the energy to leave their bed or their home.

At Stage 4, COPD is now life-threatening. Breathing is labored even when the individual is completely at rest. The number of flare-ups and exacerbations is increased, and there is now a risk of organ failure. This stage is also known as End-Stage COPD.

What are the Symptoms of COPD?

Each stage of COPD has its own set of symptoms depending on the severity of an individual’s specific disease. The following is a list of common symptoms that can be used to identify COPD.

  • Chronic Cough
  • Shortness of Breath While Resting
  • Fatigue or Inability to Exercise
  • Chest Pressure
  • Frequent Respiratory Infections
  • Coughing Up Mucus or Phlegm

What Causes COPD?

  • Smoking
  • Secondhand Tobacco Smoke
  • Asthma
  • Chemical Fumes
  • Long-Term Exposure to Airborn Irritants
  • Long-Term Exposure to Pollutants like Ammonia or Asbestos
  • A Rare Genetic Disorder: Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency

Is COPD Treatable?

While COPD cannot be cured, there are treatment options for managing symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Common medications include bronchodilators that open up the airways and anti-inflammatory medicines that prevent flare-ups.

Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation are additional treatment programs that are often recommended along with prescribed medication. These programs help patients learn how to manage their COPD symptoms while teaching healthy-living tips and breathing exercises.

Lifestyle changes can also help to manage COPD symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Individuals who smoke should take steps to quit and to avoid tobacco and secondhand tobacco smoke entirely. Caution during cold and flu season is also important, as those with COPD are more susceptible to respiratory infections.

Respiratory Care at UPMC Western Maryland

UPMC Western Maryland offers a Pulmonary Rehabilitation program to patients with chronic lung diseases as part of our respiratory care services. This program meets twice a week for 12-weeks, providing information and resources for managing your symptoms. Individuals with COPD qualify for enrollment in this program and can be referred by their doctor.

Click here to learn more about Respiratory Care at UPMC Western Maryland.