What is COPD?

COPD is a term used to describe a mixture of lung conditions including:

  • Chronic bronchitis - an inflammation and narrowing of the airway
  • Emphysema – damage to the delicate air sacs
  • A mix of chronic bronchitis and emphysema

The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. Other causes include pollution and work-related exposures, for example mining. Some patients have a hereditary susceptibility to developing COPD.

COPD will affect different people in different ways; from mild symptoms to very severe symptoms that are disabling.

Typically, patients who have COPD have marked variations in their day-to-day symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Mucous production
  • Weight loss can occur in severe disease.

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed by airflow obstruction on breathing testing (Spirometry). It can present as episodes of mild wheezy spells in the winter months at the time of a viral infection then progress to breathing difficulties that are noticeable all of the time. However, the presentation can vary. It is a progressive and irreversible condition. And the rate of progression does vary.

If COPD is suspected, your GP or Nurse will ask you to perform a breathing test (Spirometry) You should be provided with a patient information leaflet prior to attending for a Spirometry test.

Further examinations may be carried out in the hospital including chest x-rays.


Spirometry tests help your nurse or doctor to diagnose your respiratory condition(s). The tests may take up to 40 minutes depending on the type of testing required.

Please note, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated infection control considerations as a result, spirometry may not be currently available in all practices.)

The breathing test results are compared against standard values of someone of similar age, gender, ethnicity, height and weight. The percentage predicted will determine your current level of COPD.

Videos showing a patient performing a spirometry test are available to watch on the My Lungs My Life website. The Spirometry test | My Lungs My Life

Mainstay of treatment include:

  • Healthy lifestyle including quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping active;
  • Dietetic leaflets ‘nourishing snacks and drinks / food first;
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation;
  • Keeping up to date with your vaccinations;
  • Emotional well being. Patients with COPD can experience anxiety and depression;
  • Medicines - inhalers help with opening up the airways – bronchodilators;
  • Inhaler technique review - inhaler technique is important to ensure that you are receiving the medications;
  • Symptom Management is required for progressive symptoms such as managing breathlessness;
  • Managing exacerbations. Exacerbations are worsening of symptoms. You should have a COPD action plan to follow. 

COPD action plan

The information is intended to be brief and relate to the management of your condition in Fife. Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland (chss.org.uk) and My Lungs My Life (mylifemylungs.org) websites have in-depth information covering all aspects of a patient’s COPD journey.