How to Explain COPD To Friends and Family


Commercials for COPD treatments are aired on television all the time nowadays, but still, COPD is a disease that’s not well understood by the average person. If you’ve been diagnosed recently and you’re trying to explain to friends and loved ones just what COPD is, here’s a primer:

Probably least helpful is the actual name that COPD stands for: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Most people will respond, internally at least, with: “Great… What?”

Here’s a visual description: COPD is a thickening of the airways in the lungs, and also destruction of the lung tissue where oxygen is exchanged. So, it’s harder than normal to get air into and out of the lungs, and even when air does get in, the lung tissue doesn’t do a good job exchanging the oxygen from that air and getting it into your bloodstream. The added problem is that carbon dioxide, the body’s waste gas, doesn’t get removed as well either.

All of this results in shortness of breath, which gets more pronounced as the disease gets worse.

COPD sometimes is called chronic bronchitis or emphysema, but some doctors believe that chronic bronchitis could be present without the airway obstruction characteristic of COPD.

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    Nan (Nnette) Werley
    Posted at 01:20h, 03 August Reply

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    Thank you.
    Nan Werley

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      Posted at 15:48h, 18 August Reply

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    David Johnson
    Posted at 14:25h, 31 July Reply

    Thanks for explaining simply that COPD is the thickening of airways in the lungs and also the destruction of lung tissue. One of my friends has bad breathing problems, but we haven’t determined what it is. I’ll have to look into a physician practice that can help treat COPD.

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      Posted at 11:18h, 02 August Reply

      Dear David,

      The world could use more good friends like you! There is so much more we could tell you, and your friend, but the most important is to find a pulmonologist, a doctor who specializes in breathing problems, to find out what is going on. There are many things that can cause breathing problems but the fact that his problems are “bad” is concerning. If he has a primary care physician, start there by asking for a referral. If there is a local Medical Center it also would have listings of pulmonologists. You could look through to find one near you, if possible. Please don’t let your friend put this off!

      If you have other specific questions don’t hesitate to write back. We will do our best to help.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Burns, RN, BS

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