Copd Complications Diagnosis

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung disease marked by the permanent constriction of the lungs’ airways, including the bronchi and alveoli. This means that over time, people with this condition have trouble exhaling quickly, leading to breathing problems, wheezing and coughing.

Although genetics may predispose certain people to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, this condition is mainly associated with lifestyle habits, specifically smoking. A COPD diagnosis may also come as a result of extensive contact with:

  • Asbestos
  • Coal dust
  • Some chemical solvents.

If left untreated, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can have serious, potentially fatal complications, including:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia.

Consequently, you’ll want to seek medical attention immediately if you begin experiencing breathing difficulties and you’re at high risk for COPD. By diagnosing COPD early, you can take the proper steps toward treating the disease and preventing more serious complications from occurring.

How do Doctors Diagnose COPD?

When diagnosing COPD, doctors typically begin by asking patients about their personal and family medical history. Specifically, your doctor will want to know if you or any of your immediate family members have suffered from any serious lung disease. He’ll also ask you if you smoke (and how much) or work around chemicals and/or asbestos on a regular basis.

In the next step of the COPD diagnosis process, your doctor will perform a physical exam and a series of tests to confirm or rule out lung obstruction. Unfortunately, no single test can definitively identify the presence or absence of COPD. As a result, your doctor will most likely perform multiple tests to evaluate your lung capacity and strength.

Some of the possible tests that doctors can use when diagnosing COPD include the following:

  • Blood gas readings measure the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and pH in the blood.
  • Bronchodilator reversibility tests determine if breathing problems are asthmatic or related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Chest X-rays in cases of COPD may feature a flat diaphragm, increased chest size and a narrow heart.
  • CT scans may differentiate COPD from other similar conditions and help a doctor decide if surgery is feasible.
  • Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) tests can determine lung capacity and how quickly you can expel air, and are usually given before and after administering medication
  • Spirometry tests are similar to PEFR tests.

After performing a combination of these tests, your doctor will be able to make a proper COPD diagnosis.

COPD Prognosis

Like many other diseases, a COPD prognosis depends on when the disease is diagnosed. Because there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, treatments focus on:

  • Changing lifestyle habits (especially smoking cessation)
  • Easing painful symptoms
  • Expanding the lungs’ airways.

However, the longer an individual waits before diagnosing COPD, the worse his COPD prognosis tends to be.

According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, about 124,000 people die from COPD complications each year, accounting for roughly 5 percent of all deaths nationwide. In order to improve your COPD prognosis, the best first steps are quitting smoking and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Resources

American Association for Respiratory Care Staff. (n.d.). Diagnosing COPD. Retrieved April 8, 2010, from the American Association for Respiratory Care Web site: http://www.aarc.org/klein/diagnosing.asp.

COPD Gene Staff. (n.d.). CT scan use in COPD diagnosis. Retrieved April 8, 2010, from the COPD Gene Web site: http://www.copdgene.org/imaging.

Parks, R. (2006). Chest x-rays for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Retrieved April 8, 2010, from the Revolution Health Web site: http://www.revolutionhealth.com/conditions/lung/emphysema/diagnose-overview/chest-x-ray-copd.

Rozenbaum, V. (2007). On the cover. Retrieved April 8, 2010, from the COPD Alert Web site: http://www.copd-alert.com/AARCTimesSep07.pdf.

Schoenstadt, A. (2006). COPD prognosis. Retrieved April 8, 2010, from the EMedTV Web site: http://copd.emedtv.com/copd/copd-prognosis.html.