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Early signs that may indicate a breathing disorder

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious condition that affects the lungs. COPD makes it hard to breathe and without treatment, the condition usually becomes worse over time.

COPD occurs when the lungs are damaged, often by long-term exposure to irritants. Cigarette smoke and secondhand smoke are among the leading causes of COPD, however, exposure to certain chemicals or fumes can also damage the lungs. In a very limited number of cases, COPD can be linked to a rare genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Someone who has COPD may not display symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. When symptoms do begin to reveal themselves, they can include:

  • A cough that lingers and does not respond to treatment
  • Shortness of breath after light to moderate activity
  • Production of sputum, which may vary in color

“Because COPD can cause irreversible damage to the lungs, it is important to seek medical treatment when signs of this disease first begin to appear,” said Dr. Maura Lipp, a specialist in pulmonary disease with Maury Regional Medical Group.

Maura J. Lipp, M.D.
is a specialist in pulmonary disease, critical care medicine, internal medicine and hospice and palliative care medicine. She is associated with Maury Regional Medical Group Pulmonary & Critical Care, whose physicians and nurse practitioners provide care for patients in the hospital setting as well as in the Columbia practice.


While there is no cure for COPD, treatment programs and medications can help manage symptoms and help the individual maintain a good quality of life, especially when the disease is diagnosed in an early stage.

Physicians use a variety of methods to determine if an individual may be affected by COPD. They may ask that you undergo a test to assess the function of your lungs. One such test— called spirometry—measures the capacity of the lungs upon inhaling and exhaling. Other diagnostic tests may include an X-ray of the chest, a CT scan or blood gas testing. A simple finger-stick blood test can also check for levels of the alpha-1 protein to determine if an individual may have the deficiency that causes COPD.

Treatment for COPD may include medication, exercises to increase lung function and oxygen therapy.

“The best way to prevent COPD is to say no to cigarettes, or to quit smoking if you already do so,” said Dr. Lipp. “The longer you smoke, the greater the chance for damage to your lungs.”

A free screening for COPD will be held on June 22 at 10 a.m. at the Maury Regional Annex. Learn more here.