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      HealthWACH: Breathing easier with C-O-P-D

      COLUMBIA (WACH) - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a cluster of lung diseases that block airflow when exhaling, making it very difficult to breathe. There are two main conditions that make up COPD: chronic asthmatic bronchitis and emphysema. Many people have both. Chronic asthmatic bronchitis causes narrowing of the airways that lead to the lungs and inflammation, making the patient wheeze and cough. Emphysema damages the tiny air sacs in the lungs. It gradually destroys the inner walls of the air sac clusters, reducing the amount of surface area available to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. Shortness of breath will occur because the chest wall muscles have to work harder to exhale. Most COPD is the result from long-term smoking. Damage to the lungs canâ??t be reversed. So, treatment aims to control symptoms and minimize further damage.

      Symptoms donâ??t appear until there is a great deal of lung damage. Patients with COPD are also likely to experience exacerbations when symptoms worsen over time. Symptoms will vary because there are different lung conditions that form COPD. Most people will have at least one, but usually more than one, of these symptoms: shortness of breath, chronic cough, wheezing, and chest tightness. Complications can occur with COPD; respiratory infections, high blood pressure, heart problems, and depression.

      Currently in clinical trials, the intra-bronchial airway valve (IBV) is designed to help those suffering from COPD breathe easier. The IBV is a small, umbrella-shaped valve which, when in place, helps redirect air from unhealthy parts of the lung to more healthy parts. So far in the trials, those with the valves have shown improved lung function, less shortness of breath, and improved quality of life. The procedure can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, followed by a 24 hour recovery period at home. The valves can also be easily removed.