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Dr Mark Kennedy - Private Internal Medicine Specialist

Private Service

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Emphysema

Patient information:

In COPD, the major feature is a lack of full reversibility in airflow obstruction. Airways collapse, become blocked and lung tissue and air sacs become damaged.

COPD includes conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma.  COPD is a long term and sometimes fatal disease that can be managed and slowed down. Smoking is the main cause of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

The term COPD covers a wide range of severity, from mild to very severe. Breathlessness on exertion, cough and sputum are the main symptoms. Recurrent chest infections can occur, setting off severe attacks of breathlessness. 

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the main breathing tubes (bronchi) in the lungs, which results in the ongoing production of excess mucous (phlegm). There is often an associated reduction in the amount of airflow out of the lungs. In the early stages of chronic bronchitis, a cough usually occurs in the morning. As the disease progresses, coughing persists throughout the day.  There is often associated shortness of breath and an increased rate of chest infections.

Emphysema is the gradual destruction of the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The alveoli are unable to completely relax.  As they become larger they are not as good at transporting oxygen to the blood. Emphysema cannot be cured, but can be managed through medication and lifestyle changes and occasionally with surgery.


You may have some of the following tests before or after your clinic appointment: chest x-ray, spirometry, lung function tests, CT chest scan.  Dr Kennedy will decide if you need any of these tests, depending on your symptoms and examination findings.


There are ways to manage COPD.  The first and most important is to stop smoking if this applies to you.  There are exercises and dietary changes that can help maintain and improve fitness.  Being close to your ideal weight is always an advantage.  Doing as much exercise as the condition allows and having the right calorie intake are important.  Being very underweight can be as bad as being very overweight.  

There are a variety of medications and devices to deliver them. Making sure that doses of inhaled medications actually get to the airways is crucial.  Sometimes it takes time to identify the best medication and delivery system.

If you have COPD it is a good idea to have the flu vaccination every year and a pneumonia vaccine every 5 years.

This page was last updated at 2:04PM on October 8, 2019.