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Spring 2008

Early COPD Treatments May Help Slow Lung Damage

Advances in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have made it increasingly important that the condition be addressed early and aggressively.

COPD refers to chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which often co-exist. It is characterized by partial obstruction of the tubes that bring air in and out of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Although smoking is the most common cause, long-term exposure to other lung irritants can also cause or contribute to the disease.

“For many years, physicians have had the feeling that we lacked effective treatments for COPD, but that is no longer true,” says Christopher Cooper, M.D., UCLA pulmonologist and medical director of the UCLA COPD Program. “Although there is no cure or way to reverse the damage to the lungs, several treatment options can potentially slow the damage and may help patients feel better.” Among the most promising developments is the recognition that long-acting bronchodilator inhalers are effective for patients in the early stages of COPD. These medications have been shown to reduce flare-ups and hospitalizations with a treatment that, in some cases, is needed only once a day.

Exercise programs for patients with chronic lung problems, as well as smoking-cessation efforts, are also important. For patients with the most severe forms of COPD, there are now surgical techniques such as lungvolume- reduction surgery, along with experimental approaches that include implanting valves to deflate overexpanded lungs and direct the incoming air to better-functioning lung regions. Early diagnosis and treatment of COPD can slow the course of lung deterioration. Spirometry, a simple lung-function test, is the most common diagnostic tool.

“Anyone experiencing breathlessness on exertion that they think is out of the ordinary or is starting to have a cough in the morning that produces sputum should have a spirometry,” says Dr. Cooper.

To view a video about COPD, go to http://streaming.uclahealth.org/COPD

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