COPD's Effect on the Lungs
COPD's Effect on the Lungs
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) slowly damages the lungs and affects how you breathe.
COPD's effect on breathing
In COPD, the airways of the lungs (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and narrowed. They tend to collapse when you breathe out and can become clogged with mucus . This reduces airflow through the bronchial tubes, a condition called airway obstruction, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.
The inflammation of the bronchial tubes makes the nerves in the lungs very sensitive. In response to irritation, the body forces air through the airways by a rapid and strong contraction of the muscles of respiration—a cough. The rapid movement of air in the breathing tubes helps remove mucus from the lungs into the throat. People with COPD often cough a great deal in the morning after a large amount of mucus has built up overnight (smoker's cough).
The oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange
The lungs are where the blood picks up oxygen to deliver throughout the body and where it disposes of carbon dioxide that is a by-product of the body processes. COPD affects this process.
Emphysema can lead to destruction of the alveoli, the tiny air sacs that allow oxygen to get into the blood. Their destruction leads to the formation of large air pockets in the lung called bullae. These bullae do not exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide like normal lung tissue. Also, the bullae can become very large. Normal lung tissue next to the bullae cannot expand properly, reducing lung function.
Chronic bronchitis affects the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange because the airway swelling and mucus production can also narrow the airways and reduce the flow of oxygen-rich air into the lung and carbon dioxide out of the lung.
The damage to the alveoli and airways makes it harder to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen during each breath. Decreased levels of oxygen in the blood and increased levels of carbon dioxide cause the breathing muscles to contract harder and faster. The nerves in the muscles and lungs sense this increased activity and report it to the brain. As a result, you feel short of breath.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Current as ofAugust 21, 2015
Public Health Alerts
Public health alerts include information about outbreaks, advisories and product recalls. Click on the links below to read the most recent alerts, or visit our Public Health Alerts web page.
Want More Information?
HealthLink BC, your provincial health line, is as close as your phone or the web any time of the day or night, every day of the year.
Call 8-1-1 toll-free in B.C. or for deaf and hearing-impaired, call 7-1-1.
You can speak with a health service navigator, who can also connect you with a:
- registered nurse any time, every day of the year;
- registered dietitian from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday;
- pharmacist from 5pm to 9am, every day of the year.
Translation services are available in more than 130 languages.
FIND Services and Resources
If you are looking for health services in your community, you can use our directory to FIND hospitals, clinics, and other resources.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.