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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Erlanger Pulmonology and Critical Care
979 East 3rd St.
Suite C-735
Chattanooga, TN 37403

Erlanger East Hospital - Building C
1635 Gunbarrel Road
Suite 340
Chattanooga, TN 37421

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstruction of lung airflow and interferes with normal breathing. Tobacco smoking is the main cause of COPD. Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD. 

  • Emphysema is a lung disease that occurs when the walls between the alveoli are damaged. The alveoli become larger and air gets trapped in them, which makes it hard to take a deep breath, or to exhale aire from your lungs.
  • Chronic Bronchitis is a lung disease that causes the bronchioles (airways) to become swollen and form thick mucus. These changes limit airflow in and out of your lungs, making it hard to breathe.

There is currently no cure for COPD. However, with proper management, most people with COPD can control their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What are the Symptoms of COPD?

  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Excessive mucus
  • Chronic cough
  • Blueness of lips and/or fingernail beds
  • Low energy

When COPD is severe, breathing difficulties can get in the way of basic activities, like doing housework, taking a walk and even bathing and getting dressed. Severe COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

What Causes COPD?

  • Smoking (The number one risk factor)
  • Long-term exposure to lung-irritating chemicals or secondhand smoke
  • History of respiratory infections
  • Genetic disposition to the condition

How is COPD Diagnosed?

  • Physician assessment (signs/symptoms, medical/family history, risk factors)
  • Pulmonary function test (PFT)
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Arterial blood gas (ABG)
  • Laboratory tests

How is COPD Treated?

Although there is no cure for COPD, early detection is important so you can take steps to keep COPD from progressing. 

  • Smoking cessation
  • Medications (bronchodilators, steroids, antibiotics, etc.)
  • Lung therapies (oxygen, breathing techniques, pulmonary rehab)
  • Surgery
  • Lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.)


What COPD Resources Does Erlanger Offer?

  • Erlanger COPD Program – Comprehensive resources to help patients cope with this disease that impacts 24 million Americans
  • Erlanger Respiratory, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine – Receive expert care from fellowship-trained critical care physicians and a multidisciplinary pulmonary team
  • Smoking Cessation Program – Get comprehensive support to beat the number one risk factor for heart and lung disease
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program – Attend a proven educational and exercise program to help you return to your normal activities
  • Bedside RT Navigators provide education, treatment, and recommendations based on GOLD guidelines
  • Bedside smoking counseling
  • Pulmonology referrals
  • Diagnostic Labs (PFT, CXR, CT, Bronchoscopy)

Patient Education