What does COPD stand for? What is a COPD Exacerbation? What is the medical definition of COPD? How can you treat a patient with COPD?

These are all common questions from students enrolled in certain medical school programs. COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a disorder that affects millions of people around the world. As a Respiratory Therapist or medical professional, it’s an important topic that you must be very familiar with.

To help, we put this COPD study guide together in hopes that it makes the learning process a bit easier for you. So if you’re ready, let’s get started.

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What Does COPD Stand For?

As mentioned in the introduction, COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. According to the CDC, it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States.

What is the Medical Definition of COPD?

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a chronic respiratory disease that causes progressive airway obstruction which results in breathing-related problems.

Two types of COPD include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema

We created detailed study guides for both Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis, so definitely check those out if you’re interested.

What are the Causes of COPD?

The most common causes of COPD include the following:

  • Cigarette smoking/tobacco
  • Air pollution
  • Genetics

In the United States, tobacco smoke is the leading preventable cause of COPD.

What are the Causes of COPD Vector

What is an Acute Exacerbation of COPD?

It’s a worsening state of COPD that usually indicates that the patient is in need of increased medication dosages or other forms of care.

This could include noninvasive ventilation (BiPAP, CPAP, etc.) or intubation and conventional mechanical ventilation.

What is the Treatment for COPD?

The primary goal of treating COPD is to increase the patient’s life expectancy and quality of life while decreasing the number of COPD exacerbations and hospital visits.

Here are the General Steps for Treating COPD:

  1. Smoking cessation
  2. Disease management education
  3. Pulmonary rehab
  4. Avoid triggers and recurrent infections (such as the flu and pneumonia)

Next, we will discuss the treatment methods for COPD.

Methods for Treating COPD:

The following are the general methods for treating a patient with COPD:

  • Low-flow oxygen
  • Bronchodilator therapy
  • Preventative care
  • Noninvasive ventilation (Preferred)
  • Conventional mechanical ventilation

BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) is preferred during an acute exacerbation of COPD in order to avoid intubation. However, if the patient’s condition worsens, intubation and conventional mechanical ventilation would be indicated.

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What is CBABE?

CBABE is a mnemonic that can be used as a simple way to learn and memorize all of the obstructive diseases.

Just simply break it down and use each letter as follows:

  • C – Cystic Fibrosis
  • B – Bronchiectasis
  • A – Asthma
  • B – Bronchitis (Chronic)
  • E – Emphysema

Again, you can easily memorize this acronym as a simple way to learn which disorders are classified as obstructive diseases.

CBABE Obstructive Lung Diseases COPD
Now you should have a decent understanding of the basic concepts of COPD. In this section, we’ve provided several practice questions so that you can dive even deeper into this topic.

COPD Practice Questions:

1. What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
It stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible. The more familiar terms ‘chronic bronchitis’ and ’emphysema’ are no longer used, but are now included within the COPD diagnosis.

2. What is the most common cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

3. What are some other causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Long term work environments that is smoky or dusty.

4. When can be the onset of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can first appear up to 20 years. Ambulance attendance is often triggered by a respiratory infection.

5. What are four diseases that are considered chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases?
Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis

6. What is the effect on airflow in terms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Obstruction and/or limitation that is not completely reversible.

7. What are the causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Chronic inflammatory responses, noxious particles and gases

8. What is the progressive nature of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and why is it important to establish a baseline and follow up?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will get worse over a progressive period of time. It is pertinent to establish a baseline in order to start treatment and follow-up to track the progression of this disease.

9. What is the etiology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung damage risk factors?
Smoking, genes, age and gender, lung growth and development, exposure to particles, social status and deficiency of serine protease inhibitor alpha 1 anti-trypsin (AAT).

10. What is the general pathophysiology of COPD?
Airflow limitation and air trapping; traps air in exhalation leading to hyperinflation; and breaks down of the alveolar walls, excess mucus inflamed lining and bronchial.

11. What are the general symptoms of COPD?
Dyspnea, cough, sputum, fever, wheezing, chest tightness, and fatigue.

12. What are the differences on the major symptoms between chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
In chronic bronchitis, symptoms consist of excessive sputum production for at least 3 months for a year and twice in a row while emphysema’s symptoms consist of the destruction of the gas exchange surfaces.

13. What are two major ways to diagnose COPD?
Clinical assessment/history and Spirometer to measure volumes, capacities, and flow of air.

14. What are other ways to diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Laboratory values, electrocardiogram (EKG), arterial blood gas (ABG) and chest x-ray (CXR)

15. What are the COPD severity staging guidelines?
The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) staging systems are: Stage 1 or Mild COPD, patients with FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in one second) <80% of predicted. Patients experience shortness of breath when hurrying on the level or walking up a slight hill; Stage 2 or Moderate COPD, patients with FEV1=50-80% of predicted. Patients experience shortness of breath causing patient to stop after walking about 100 meters on level ground; Stage 3 or Severe COPD, patients with FEV1=30-50% of predicted. Patients experience shortness of breath to leave the house or breathless after dressing or undressing and present chronic respiratory failure or clinical signs of heart failure; and, Stage 4 or Very Severe COPD, patients with FEV1 <30% of predicted. Death is imminent.

16. What are the main interventions for managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Removing irritant like smoking cessation, pharmacology agents, pulmonary rehabilitation and surgical options

17. What is the effect of bronchodilators on the decline in lung function?
Drugs don’t change the progressive decline in lung function. They will only help dilate the bronchotracheal tree to help aide air movement and mucus movement.

18. What are the main goals of drugs in COPD management?
They are designed to improve symptoms and improve the quality of life for the patient.

19. What medications are used in the management of COPD?
These are racemic epinephrine, Albuterol/Proventil (ventilin), Levalbuterol (xopenex), Salmeterol, Formoterol, Arformoterol (brovana), Ipratropium (atrovent), Tiotropium (sprivia), Budesonide (pulimcort), Mometasone (asmanex), Fluticasone (Flovent), Beclomethasone (QVAR), Acetylcysteine (mucomyst), and Dornase alpha (rhDNAse), and Nedocromil (tilade).

20. What is the preferred long-term steroid administration route and why is it preferred?
It is inhaled administration route because they don’t have the side effects of systemic steroids.

21. When is it appropriate to use systemic steroids?
The appropriate use of systemic steroids is when nothing else works. Symptoms and airflow limitation increase despite maximal therapy with other drugs. Systemic steroids can be administered by IV (intravenous), shot, or orally.

22. What are the criteria for home oxygen use?
PaO2<55% or SaO2 <88% on room air taken 2 times over 3 weeks period in stable patient and PaO2 55-60% if evidence of pulmonary hypertension (HTN), congestive heart failure (CHF), or polycythemia.

23. What is chronic bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis is an increase production of mucus from bronchi. It is not from a specific disease. Common characteristic of this disease is the present of cough and increase sputum for 3 consecutive months each year for 2 years.

24. What are the three causes of chronic bronchitis?
Smoking, recurring pulmonary infections as a child may increases susceptibility and air pollution

25. What is the pathophysiology of chronic bronchitis?
Inhale irritant, bronchial walls inflame and bronchial mucous glands enlarged

26. What are the advanced stages of chronic bronchitis?
Larger airways plug, V/Q (ventilation/perfusion) mismatch, pulmonary arteries constrict and polycythemia

27. What can be observed on the result of a complete blood count (CBC) of patients with advanced stage of chronic bronchitis?
For male, RBC (red blood cell) 4.6-6.2 million/UL with Hgb 13-18 gm/dl and for female, RBC 4.2-5.4 million/UL with Hgb12-16 gm/dl

28. What are the clinical manifestations of chronic bronchitis?
Frequent cough with mucous expectorate, slight increase on respiratory rate (RR), and slight increase of heart rate (H), carbon dioxide (CO), blood pressure (BP), dyspnea only with lung infection. Breath sounds and x-ray have no significant changes. The arterial blood gas (ABG) has slight respiratory alkalosis with mild hypoxemia (↑PH, ↓PaCO2, ↓HCO3 ↓PaO2). Advanced signs of chronic bronchitis includes a chronic cough with increased mucus, increased respiratory rate (RR), heart rate (HR), carbon dioxide (CO), blood pressure (BP), dyspnea especially with exertion, increased work of breathing (WOB) with prolonged expiration, diagnostic palpation/percussion, decreased tactile and vocal fremitus, hyper resonant percussion note in breath sounds, and decreased conditioned reflex (Cr).

29. What are the diagnostic test and result of chronic bronchitis?
Chest x-ray (CXR) shows hyperinflation or air trapping, translucent or very dark, increased A-P diameter (barrel chest), flattened Diaphragm or blunted costophrenic angle, spider like projection in the bronchogram, and enlarged heart. Pulmonary function testing shows decreased expiratory maneuver, forced vital capacity (FVC) of lung volume and capacity is increased along with ventricular tachycardia (Vt), right ventricle (RV), residual volume/total lung volume (RV/TLC) and functional residual capacity (FRC). There is a decrease in vital capacity (VC), inspiratory reserve volume (IRV), expiratory reserve volume (ERV), and a normal forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC 78) that is 83% if less than 50% significant disease.

30. What are available treatments for medical and respiratory of chronic bronchitis?
Stop smoking to eliminate irritant. Avoid other lung infections. Avoid dry and cold air. Improve bronchial hygiene by humidifying oxygen (O2) when necessary. Dilate airway to help a cough with the use of bronchodilator that is sympathomimetic and administration of parasympatholytic agent like Beta 2-Parasympatholytic, xanthine, and theophylline that aids bronchial dilation. For treatment of thin and thick mucus, use of mucolytic, percussion and postural drainage (P&PD), ultrasonic nebulizer (usn) and heated aerosol. Antibiotics are for bacterial treatment.

31. What are the changes in breath sounds in early chronic bronchitis?
No significant changes.

32. What will the arterial blood gas (ABG) show for patients diagnosed with early stages of chronic bronchitis?
Arterial blood gas (ABG) will have a slight respiratory alkalosis with mild hypoxemia (↑PH, ↓PaCO2, ↓HCO3 ↓PaO2).

33. What is the breath sounds in advanced chronic bronchitis?
Crackles with wet secretions wheezes that leads to bronchoconstriction (mucus plug) and Rhinflamedflammed airways.

34. What will the arterial blood gas (ABG) show for patients diagnosed with the advanced stage of chronic bronchitis?
It will show Compensated Respiratory Acidosis (pH normal,↓ PaO2 (cyanosis & clubbing),↑ PaCO2, ↑ HCO3).

35. Why do the pulmonary vessels constrict during chronic bronchitis?
Constriction happens because of hypoxemia leading to pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR).

36. What is the method of medicine delivery that requires patients to keep track of how many doses they have used?
Metered-dose inhaler

37. What is the difference between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is not reversible and asthma is.

38. What is the main risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

39. What is hypercapnia?
Above normal PaCO2

40. When should a hospice referral be made for a COPD patient?
When the disease enters Stage III-IV

41. What is the most common test in diagnosing and monitoring chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

42. What is the best care approach suited for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Palliative care and home health

43. What organs do patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease develop complication in general?
The diaphragm and the throat

44. What triggers exacerbation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Infection, pollution, and cold weather

45. When can an advance directive become effective?
When the patient’s condition is determined to be non-reversible with no hope of recovery, and the patient is no longer able to speak for her. It is signed by two doctors.

46. What contributes most to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
The number of pack-years that the patient smoked.

47. What does FEV1 stand for?
Forced Expiratory Volume in the first second.

48. What characteristic is in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
This disease involves abnormal inflammation.

49. How many times is a smoker more likely to die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than a non-smoker?
10 times

50. What are bronchodilators?
It is the medication that relaxes the smooth muscles of the airways and makes breathing easier.

51. What heart problem is caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Cor pulmonale

52. What is a noninvasive type of ventilation?
Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation or NPPV

53. What may signal the existence of asthma?
Bronchodilator reversibility, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema

54. What device must be surgically implanted?
Transtracheal catheter

55. What is not a benefit of long-term oxygen therapy?
Better absorption of medications and better mental functioning

56. What common misconceptions about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Lower respiratory infections usually increase once a patient quits smoking. Because COPD causes wasting, weight gain resulting from smoking cessation is not much of a problem.

57. Why is diaphragmatic breathing not usually recommended for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Diaphragmatic breathing or deep breathing is done by contracting the diaphragm. Patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease relay more on the accessory muscle of the neck, shoulders and back to breathe rather than the diaphragm. This technique is more difficult to master and little proof has been found that it has positive effects.

58. What nail finding is commonly seen with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Clubbed fingers

59. What type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is referred as a “pink puffer”?

60. What type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is referred as a “blue bloater”?
Chronic bronchitis

61. What type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease presents more commonly with a cough and sputum?
Chronic bronchitis

62. What type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will complain most often of dyspnea?

63. What type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is common in a younger population (late 30s and 40s)?
Chronic bronchitis

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64. What type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease produces peripheral edema?
Chronic bronchitis

65. What type of COPD has “quiet” breath sounds without adventitious sounds on auscultation?

66. What are the characteristics of chronic bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a productive cough that lasts at least three months with recurring bouts occurring for at least two consecutive years, copious amounts of mucus production, airway obstruction due to bronchial inflammation and destruction of the pulmonary acini.

67. Which is more prevalent, asthma or COPD?
Asthma is more prevalent but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is more deadly.

68. What are the physical findings of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Barrel chest, cyanosis of mucosal membranes, increased resting respiratory rate, shallow breathing, and pursed lips during respiration

69. What is the greatest risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Patients with COPD are at risk of a right-sided heart failure. A patient with a myocardial infarction (MI) is at risk for left-sided heart failure.

70. What are the three primary symptoms of COPD?
Cough, sputum production, and dyspnea on exertion.

71. What are the potential complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Polycythemia (elevated RBC (red blood cell)), infection, atelectasis, pneumonia, pulmonary hypertension and respiratory insufficiency or failure. 

72. Who should undergo spirometry testing to detect chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Smokers or ex-smokers 40 years of age and older who have the symptoms.

73. What will the Spirometry show for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
There will be reductions in force expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1), strong predictor of mortality rate; FEV1/FVC (forced vital capacity) and mid-expiratory flow rate

74. What are the available treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Smoking cessation, oxygen therapy, pharmacological therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation.

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Final Thoughts

So there you have it. That wraps up our study guide on COPD. Now you not only know the medical definition, you also know how to treat a patient who is showing signs of an acute COPD exacerbation.

I hope that you’ll be able to use this information to prepare for your exams and boost your knowledge as a medical professional. Thank you so much for reading and as always, breathe easy my friend.


The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:

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Medical Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your physician with any questions that you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read in this article.

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