Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an obstructive lung disease that is associated with poor air flow and can be accompanied by difficulty breathing and a cough (Barnes, Drazen & Rennard, 2009). The pathophysiology behind the disease depends on the underlying cause. In emphysema, the poor air flow is a result lung tissue degradation (Barnes et al., 2009). If an individual has small airways, this is known as obstructive bronchiolitis (Barnes et al., 2009). In many cases, COPD is associated with an inflammatory response to the inhalation of various types of irritants, including tobacco smoke and environmental chemicals. This inflammatory response leads to irritation. Oxidative stress is also a common factor found in COPD patients. Oxidative stress the process where free radicals, certain types of reactive atoms, attack the tissue of the lungs and cause the breakdown of cells in the organ (Barnes et al., 2009). Another element of the pathophysiology is that the airways become narrower due to scarring associated with either an infection or an inflammatory response to tobacco smoke or substances inhaled from the environment (Barnes et al., 2009).
The primary symptom of COPD is the inability to breath out fully, and it is the outward breath that is generally most affected in the patient (Barnes et al., 2009). Other symptoms include a cough, which can lead to rib fractures or even the loss of consciousness (Barnes et al., 2009). Many patients with COPD feel as though they have a cold that has lasted for longer than normal. Shortness of breath is the symptom that most patients report to the doctor or nurse with (Barnes et al., 2009). Some patients experience tightness in the chest area, pain when breathing, or wheezing sounds. These symptoms all depend on the severity of the damage to the lungs and the stage to which the disease has progressed. There is also the element of differences between patients as to which symptoms are most obvious.
- Barnes, P. J., Drazen, J. M., & Rennard, S. I. (2009). Asthma and COPD: Basic Mechanisms and Clinical Management. Academic Press.