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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

MPOC Vall d'Hebron



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a respiratory disease that leads to obstruction of airways. The main symptoms are coughing, hawking and difficulty breathing, requiring particular effort. Although it can be due to other reasons, it is mainly caused by exposure to tobacco smoke. The main treatment is bronchodilators administered using an inhaler. 



COPD is a respiratory disease that mainly appears in smokers or ex-smokers and causes the airway to become obstructed or blocked.  



The main symptoms are coughing, hawking and difficulty breathing, requiring particular effort. Patients with COPD can also present with infection or worsening of symptoms, known as exacerbation.


How is affected by the condition?

The illness mainly affects smokers and ex-smokers. It is also associated with exposure to other sources of smoke, such as biomass smoke. In a small proportion of cases it may be due to genetic causes. The prevalence of COPD is up to 10% of the adult population aged over 40 in Spain. 



Diagnosis of COPD is confirmed using a respiratory test: spirometry. This is a very simple test that can be conducted in a primary care centre (CAP). This test should be performed on all individuals over the age of 40 with a history of smoking who have respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness or coughing.


Typical treatment

Typical treatment for COPD involves using bronchodilators administered via an inhaler. There are two different types of bronchodilator that may be administered together or separately, depending on each patient’s needs. The aim of this treatment is to reduce the sensation of breathlessness and the number of exacerbations and improve lung capacity. In some patients, administering corticosteroids via inhaler may also be necessary. The best treatment for COPD is stopping smoking.


Typical tests 

As well as spirometry, other tests that may be required include chest x-ray, CAT scan, sputum culture or other more complete breathing tests. A blood test is normally performed to rule out genetic causes.



 As tobacco is the main risk factor, the best prevention for COPD is not smoking. Exposure to environmental pollution and passive smoking should also be avoided.

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