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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)


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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of conditions that cause progressive (worsening) loss of lung function. It happens when the elastic tubes that carry air in the lungs or the attached balloon-like structures that hold air (air sacs) are damaged and can’t move air in and out of the lungs quickly.

Two common types of COPD are:

  • Emphysema: when the air sacs stretch out and eventually collapse and trap air
  • Chronic obstructive bronchitis: when inflammation and mucous block the airways

COPD is caused by smoking, secondhand smoke, or environmental pollutants. Emphysema is related to antitrypsin deficiency (alpha-1), a metabolic storage disorder that also affects the liver. In addition, people with multiple lung infections may have a higher risk of developing COPD.

Symptoms of COPD include chronic (ongoing) cough, a cough that brings up mucus, and shortness of breath. Sometimes, dangerous flare-ups happen, when shortness of breath worsens quickly. Over time, shortness of breath caused by COPD can affect simple daily activities.

If you have symptoms of COPD, make an appointment with a pulmonologist (lung specialist) at University of Miami Health System. Our teams can help you breathe easier.


Arterial blood gas (ABG)
This test measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, using a sample taken from an artery. Results show how well your lungs work, and whether you need oxygen therapy for COPD.

Medical imaging
A chest X-ray and advanced diagnostic CT (computed tomography) scan show problems in the lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

Pulmonary function tests
Pulmonary function tests measure lung functioning. They show how much air your lungs can hold, how quickly air moves in and out, and how well the carbon dioxide/oxygen gas exchange works. Methods include spirometry, or a mouthpiece attached to a machine, and plethysmography, performed in a box that looks like a phone booth.

Ventilation/perfusion scan (V/Q)
A ventilation/perfusion scan (V/Q scan) is a nuclear imaging test that measures breathing (ventilation) and circulation (perfusion). The procedure involves inhaled and injected radioactive tracers to show airflow and blood supply in the lungs. The scan can detect blood clots and damage to blood vessels.


Medicine therapy
Oral corticosteroid medicines can reduce inflammation, and antibiotics can treat lung infections that cause or complicate COPD. Inhaled medicines can relieve coughing, improve breathing, and reduce inflammation. These include long- and short-acting bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and combination medicines.

Oxygen therapy
If blood oxygen levels are too low, your doctor may prescribe inhaled oxygen as needed, such as before exercise or long-term for most of the day. There are different devices available. Many are portable, meaning they’re easy to move or take with you on the go.

Pulmonary rehabilitation
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs involve support, education, exercise, and nutrition counseling and training to help you live better with COPD. Our programs are personalized to your needs, and focus on keeping you active and enjoying life.

Surgery for COPD may improve airflow in the lungs. Procedures include open and minimally invasive techniques to remove damaged lung tissue (called lung volume reduction surgery, or LVRS) or air spaces (bullae) that form in the lungs (called a bullectomy).

If your condition is severe and doesn’t respond well to other treatments, a lung transplant may be an option.

Why Choose UHealth?

Advanced diagnostics and nuclear imaging. With advanced diagnostics and nuclear imaging tests, we can get better results, for a more accurate diagnosis. This means we can start treatment early, and even slow disease progression.

Critical care experts here for you from hospital to home. Our pulmonologists diagnose and treat conditions in the hospital and intensive care units. We also provide follow-up outpatient (clinic) care for COPD at convenient South Florida locations. You get seamless services from some of the same providers who know you and understand your medical history.

Researching new and better treatments for COPD. We’re studying medicine safety and effectiveness for chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, such as emphysema and antitrypsin deficiency (alpha-1). With ongoing research and clinical trials, you can trust you’ll get the most innovative COPD care sooner.

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