Q: What is COPD and how do you get it?
A: COPD is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Most cases of COPD develop after long-term exposure to lung irritants that damage the lungs and the airways.
In the United States, the most common irritant that causes COPD is cigarette smoke. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke also can cause COPD, especially if the smoke is inhaled. Secondhand smoke—that is, smoke in the air from other people smoking, also can irritate the lungs and contribute to COPD.
Breathing in air pollution and chemical fumes or dust from the environment or workplace also can contribute to COPD.
In rare cases, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may play a role in causing COPD.
A physician will make the diagnosis based on a combination of personal history, radiographic studies, and pulmonary function testing.
From my personal experience caring for patients with end-stage COPD, the suffering is enough to make anyone snuff out their cigarettes for good.
Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting www.beekman1802.com.
Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.