Medical News Today: COPD: What is it?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung condition. It gets worse over time, and a range of factors can affect how quickly it progresses.

COPD can involve chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and irreversible, or refractory asthma. Some people with COPD have all three conditions.

Keep reading to learn more about COPD, including its symptoms, types, causes, and some treatment options.

What is COPD?

a man with copd coughing Share on Pinterest
A person with COPD may experience coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

COPD is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time.

The rate of progression varies considerably, depending on the individual and the type of disease involved. Treatments and lifestyle changes can significantly affect how quickly COPD progresses.

According to the American Lung Association, more than 15 million people in the United States have a COPD diagnosis, and many more likely have the disease without realizing it.

All forms of COPD adversely affect the lungs and cause breathing problems. However, the exact physiology and the type of lung damage can vary.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are commonly involved in COPD. Both tend to develop later in life, due to factors such as tobacco smoking. They generally involve a progressive decline that results in premature death.

Refractory asthma can also be a form of COPD. This type of asthma is severe and irreversible — it does not respond to medications that typically treat asthma.


All types of COPD cause similar signs and symptoms, but these can vary in severity. Symptoms of COPD commonly flare up, becoming more severe, from time to time.

Typical symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • coughing
  • increased mucus production
  • fatigue


According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the primary cause of COPD in the U.S. is cigarette smoking. Exposure to other lung irritants, such as the following, can also contribute to the disease:

  • secondhand smoke
  • air pollution
  • chemicals

In rare cases, a genetic condition called an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can play a role in causing COPD. A person with this deficiency has a low level of the protein alpha-1-antitrypsin in their liver, making them more susceptible to lung damage.


A diagnosis of COPD begins with a physical exam and a review of the person's symptoms and medical history.

Additional tests can confirm a doctor's initial diagnosis. The doctor may request a chest X-ray and a pulmonary function test, which measures the amount of air that a person can exhale and how long a full exhalation takes.

Further tests can help determine the extent of the disease. For example, an arterial blood gas test can measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body.


Lung conditions that are forms of COPD include:

  • Emphysema: This damages the air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs.
  • Chronic bronchitis: This involves inflammation of the bronchial tubes.
  • Refractory asthma: This involves inflammation and narrowing of the airways that medication cannot reverse.

Other conditions linked to COPD include:

  • Bronchiectasis: This involves inflammation and scarring of the airways that leads to extensive amounts of mucus.
  • Pneumonia: People with COPD are more likely to develop pneumonia and other lung infections.

Determining the stage of COPD

Doctors use a staging system to classify the severity of COPD based on the results of spirometry testing.

Spirometry measurements

A person takes a spirometry test in a doctor's office. It involves blowing into the mouthpiece of a device called a spirometer, which measures lung function.

The spirometer will record how much air the person can exhale when they try to empty their lungs completely. This measurement is called forced vital capacity.

Also, the device will record how much air the person can exhale in 1 second, which can indicate the severity of COPD.


The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) developed a COPD classification system based on spirometry results.

The GOLD classification also takes into account the person's symptoms, any hospitalization because of COPD, and how many times the disease has worsened.

The four grades of COPD include:

  • grade 1: mild
  • grade 2: moderate
  • grade 3: severe
  • grade 4: very severe


Treatment for COPD can help prevent flare-ups, slow the disease's progression, and improve the person's quality of life. A treatment plan may involve a combination of the following:


Inhaled medications, including bronchodilators and steroids, can ease symptoms.

Bronchodilators, such as albuterol, work by relaxing the muscles around the airways, opening them up.

Steroids, such as fluticasone, reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Oxygen therapy

People with COPD may have decreased oxygen levels. Supplemental oxygen therapy may help improve these levels and ease shortness of breath.


Bilevel positive airway pressure (BIPAP) delivers pressure to the lungs, making breathing easier.

BIPAP may help relieve shortness of breath, boost oxygen levels, and remove carbon dioxide from the lungs.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes may benefit people with COPD. For example, quitting smoking may slow the progression of the disease.

Changing the diet may also help. For example, overeating or eating foods that lead to gas can cause bloating, which can push against the diaphragm, increasing shortness of breath.

Some people with COPD may benefit from eating smaller meals and eating more frequently.

Also, it is important to keep immunizations up to date, such as those for the flu and pneumonia. This can reduce the risk of infections that can become severe in people with COPD.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation classes combine education with a supervised exercise program.

Participants learn how to manage their lung disease. This may involve:

  • tactics for identifying infection early
  • strategies for conserving energy
  • breathing exercises

The exercises involved can help relieve breathlessness and strengthen the heart and other muscles to improve daily functioning.

Also, a number of supplements may help with symptoms of COPD. Read about them here.


COPD is the third leading cause of disease-related death in the U.S. Research into a cure is ongoing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, more females than males have died from COPD in the past 20 years.

The reason may be that females tend to receive a diagnosis later than males, when the disease has progressed further and treatments are less effective.

The CDC also report that females seem to be more susceptible to the negative effects of harmful substances, such as pollution, that can increase the risk of developing COPD.

The overall outlook for COPD depends on the stage of the disease and any other health issues the person has. People respond differently to treatment, and this can also significantly affect the outlook.


COPD is a progressive, long-term lung condition that restricts the ability to breathe. The severity of a person's symptoms depends on the stage of the disease.

Various treatments and other interventions can slow the disease's progression, control symptoms, and prevent complications.

Usually, a doctor will recommend medications and lifestyle changes, including stopping smoking.

Original Article

Medical News Today: 11 supplements for COPD

If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collective term for a group of chronic lung conditions including chronic bronchitis, refractory asthma, and emphysema. However, there are a number of supplements and remedies available that may help ease the symptoms of COPD.

People with COPD find it increasingly difficult to breathe. Among other symptoms, they may experience coughing, wheezing, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

Nutrition is very important for the 15.7 million people in the United States with a COPD diagnosis.

According to the COPD Foundation, people with COPD may need 430–720 more calories per day than other people, due to the effort they need to exert while breathing. In fact, 25–40% of people with COPD are also dealing with malnutrition, which interferes with their long-term prognosis.

At present, there is no cure for COPD. However, the American Lung Association suggest that eating a high fat, low carbohydrate diet can be helpful for people with breathing problems.

There are also many different supplements and remedies that people with COPD can try to support their medical treatment and help them manage their condition. Keep reading to learn more.


Researchers have identified the following vitamins for COPD treatment and support:

1. Vitamin D

a woman shopping for supplements for COPDShare on Pinterest
Vitamin D may help the lungs function better.

Studies have suggested that many people with COPD have low vitamin D, and that taking vitamin D supplements helps the lungs function better.

Taking vitamin D-3 supplements for COPD can also protect against moderate or severe flare-ups.

2. Vitamin C

Researchers have linked low levels of vitamin C to increases in shortness of breath, mucus, and wheezing.

3. Vitamin E

Studies suggest that people experiencing a flare-up of COPD symptoms tend to have lower levels of vitamin E than people whose COPD is stable.

Other studies suggest that long-term use of vitamin E supplements may help prevent COPD.

4. Vitamin A

According to one study, individuals with the highest intake of vitamin A had a 52% lower risk of COPD.


Researchers have identified the following minerals for COPD treatment and support:

5. Magnesium

Magnesium supports lung function, but some COPD medications may interfere with the body's ability to absorb it.

People should also exercise caution when taking magnesium supplements for COPD, because it can interfere with some drugs and cause side effects.

6. Calcium

Calcium can help the lungs function, but some COPD medications may cause people to lose calcium. This makes it even more important for people with COPD to consider increasing calcium-rich foods in their diet.

If a person is not able to reach their calcium needs through the diet, it may be necessary to take a calcium supplement.

Other supplements

Researchers have identified the following additional supplements for COPD treatment and support:

7. Omega-3 fatty acids

Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation for people with COPD. Although they occur in fish, seeds, and nuts, some people take fish oil supplements to make sure that they get enough of this nutrient.

8. Dietary fiber

Eating more dietary fiber may lead to a lower risk of COPD.

9. Herbal teas

In some parts of the world, many people with COPD use the following teas to reduce the symptoms:

  • green tea
  • chamomile tea
  • lemon balm tea
  • lime tea
  • linseed tea
  • sage tea
  • thyme tea
  • mallow tea
  • rosehip tea
  • mint tea

In fact, some research has shown that drinking green tea at least twice per day may reduce the risk of developing COPD.

10. Curcumin

Present in turmeric, some people call curcumin a natural anti-inflammatory.

Some research suggests that it may help treat the inflammation of the airways that characterizes COPD.

11. Ginseng

Some traditional and alternative health advocates recommend ginseng supplements for COPD, to help build up lung strength.

However, a 2019 study found little difference in the results between those who took ginseng for COPD and those who took a placebo.

Read about some natural remedies for COPD here.

When to see a doctor

COPD is chronic and progressive, which means that it does not go away and tends to get worse with time. People with COPD need to see their doctor regularly to monitor and manage their condition.

Even though prescription drugs cannot reverse the gradual decline in breathing capacity, they can help people with COPD manage their symptoms.

Also, getting regular flu shots can help people with COPD prevent illnesses that could cause serious complications. For these reasons, people with COPD need regular medical care.

Although taking supplements for COPD can be helpful, people with this condition should speak to a doctor or other healthcare provider about all the supplements they are taking or planning to take.

Vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other products may interact and interfere with COPD medications. They can also cause side effects.


COPD is a serious and chronic health condition.

Although there is currently no cure for this condition, medical treatment can help people manage their symptoms. Using herbal and nutritional supplements for COPD can also help with symptom management.

Before taking any supplements, however, a person should discuss their use with a doctor or other healthcare provider.


Some of the supplements listed in this article are available for purchase in stores and online.

Original Article