Living and Wellness Problems Breathing? It Could be COPD By UPMC, November 13, 2016 If you are experiencing shortness of breath, coughing, recurring chest infections, or bronchitis, you may have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, often called “COPD.” COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 11 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, but millions more may have the disease without knowing it, according to the American Lung Association. What Defines COPD? COPD is group of lung diseases that include: Chronic Bronchitis Emphysema Non-reversible asthma You may not notice the symptoms of COPD in its early stages, but you’ll begin to experience symptoms at first with exercise. As the disease progresses, symptoms will become more pronounced. RELATED: Asthma Attack Symptoms and Treatment Tips What Are the Risk Factors of COPD? Most cases of COPD are caused by tobacco smoking, although inhalation of pollutants, fumes, and chemicals found in the environment or many workplaces may also be a cause. Additionally, genetics is a contributing factor for COPD. COPD Signs and Symptoms Increased breathlessness (at first only with exertion) Frequent coughing (with and without sputum) Tightness in the chest How Would I Get Diagnosed for COPD? Think you’re experiencing COPD symptoms? You should immediately see your doctor. Left untreated, your COPD could drastically worsen. Ask your doctor about taking a spirometry test. This test measures how well your lungs are working. You will be asked to blow all the air out of your lungs into a spirometer, which calculates the total amount of air you blow out and how fast it comes out. While there currently is no cure for COPD, treatments can improve symptoms and help you have a better quality of life. What Are the Treatments for COPD? Smoking cessation is critical to prevent further decline in lung function. Influenza shots and pneumococcal vaccination are essential. Regular maintenance inhalers including bronchodilators with or without corticosteroids can help open the airway and prevent flare-ups. Regular exercise and pulmonary rehab can further improve quality of life. A minority of patients can also benefit from using oxygen tanks. RELATED: Why Should I Get A Flu Shot? Surgery may be needed for advanced COPD, in cases where damaged lung tissue remains. With a surgical option, part of the most destroyed areas of both lungs are removed, making room for the rest of the lung to work better. A lung transplant may be necessary in the most severe cases. Find more information by visiting the website for UPMC Pulmonology and Respiratory Services.