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Terminology of COPD & Asthma

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  • 0:01 Smoking and…
  • 0:29 COPD, Chronic…
  • 2:21 Asthma, Wheezing, and…
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will define two famous respiratory disorders: COPD (encompassing chronic bronchitis and emphysema) and asthma (including wheezing and bronchospasms).

Smoking and Respiratory Disease

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Yes, it causes lung cancer, most of you know that. But that is truly just the tip of the iceberg. Smoking causes other cancers not related to the lungs. It also causes or exacerbates a ton of different respiratory disorders. Perhaps none more famous than COPD and asthma. This lesson will define these two conditions and their related terminology.

COPD, Chronic Bronchitis, & Emphysema

Smoking is the usual cause of COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD is characterized by chronic airway inflammation, scarring of the airways, and mucus production that makes it difficult to breathe. COPD encompasses two main problems: chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Chronic bronchitis is defined as long-term inflammation of the bronchi. Bronchitis is a term that comes from bronch/o, referring to the bronchus, and -itis, which implies inflammation of something. More specifically, chronic bronchitis refers to a condition characterized by a productive cough, a cough where phlegm is produced, which is of at least 3 months duration for at least 2 consecutive years.

Emphysema is the irreversible and abnormal enlargement of alveoli, the destruction of alveolar walls, and a decrease in the total number of alveoli, all of which leads to impaired gas exchange. Alveoli are the air sacs of the lungs where gas exchange occurs. Emphysema comes from the Greek word for inflation.

Normally, the lungs are elastic, like a new balloon. If you inflate a balloon and open the tip, the air will flow out quickly because the balloon is elastic. It snaps back into place and forces the air out of itself pretty easily, without any effort on your part. In emphysema, this balloon loses its elasticity, becomes flimsy, and the air remains trapped inside of it even if the tip is open. This is why people with emphysema have to work harder to exhale.

Asthma, Wheezing, & Bronchospasm

While COPD is linked to being directly caused by smoking, smoking also exacerbates another respiratory condition known as asthma, a chronic (or long-term) disorder where overly-sensitive airways cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing as a result of airway inflammation, excess mucus production, and airway constriction.

Instances when an individual experiences difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing as a result of asthma, are called asthma attacks.

Wheezing is a high-pitched, whistling-like, breathing sound that is caused by narrowed airways. The airways can be triggered to constrict by all sorts of things other than smoke, including dust, respiratory infections, pollen, and cold air. The airways constrict as a result of bronchospasms, the spasmodic contractions of the muscles of the bronchi and bronchioles. The 'spasm' in bronchospasms is a term that refers to the sudden involuntary contraction of something.

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