Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of progressive lung diseases that cause trouble breathing. According to the COPD foundation, nearly 30 million people are affected with this disease in the United States. Many do not realize that they may suffer from this condition because early symptoms usually include coughing and breathlessness, which is easy to mistake for a normal part of aging.
This disease is better understood when one learns the process in which the human body exchanges oxygen between the lungs and blood. This process begins when the inhaled air travels through the bronchial tubes (airways). Next it makes its way through the bronchioles– branches of the bronchial tubes– into the alveoli, which are sacs surrounded by blood capillaries. When the air reaches the alveoli the capillaries of the pulmonary arteries absorb the oxygen and the excess carbon dioxide and extraneous gasses are exhaled. The alveoli are elastic organs which allows them to inflate and deflate as air is breathed in and out.
One of the most common reasons for why people develop COPD in older age is the loss of elasticity in the alveoli. Additionally, the swelling of airways and excretion of mucus can also indicate developing COPD. A tightness in the chest and frequent colds or infections are symptoms which indicate the development of this disease. It is important that a person over the age of 65 is aware of this disease because many of the symptoms may be mistaken for a less severe illness. The course of treatment will be better optimized if there is an early diagnosis of COPD.
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COPD Overview. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/home/ovc-20204882