Disease Characteristic

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name given to a collection of lung diseases. These include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other chronic obstructive airways disease (NHS Choices). The main symptoms of COPD are breathing difficulties, persistent cough with phlegm and frequent chest infection due to blockages in airflow of the airway.

COPD is considered as the fourth most common cause of death worldwide, and the World Health Organisation predicted that by 2020 it will have become the third (WHO 2006). It usually affects people who are aged 35 but diagnosis is usually not made until the age of 50.

COPD is different to asthma. In COPD, the damage to the airways and the lung tissues is largely irreversible, where as in asthma the airflow obstruction is potentially fully reversible. Both diseases are common and in some patients coexist. Patients with stable COPD experience chronic symptoms such as breathing difficulties, phlegmy cough, wheezing and chest tightness. These symptoms worsen slowly over time, and eventually develop into respiratory failure or right heart failure.

Cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD (Chen and Mannino 1999). The longer and the more you smoke, the more likely you develop COPD. Other causes for COPD are fumes, dust, air pollution and genetic disorders. Stopping smoking and a clear environment are essential for the prevention of COPD.

Normal conventional treatment for COPD is to alleviate symptoms and to improve quality of life. Short-acting β2-adrenergic receptor agonists are used on an ‘as required’ basis (NICE 2015).

How Traditional Chinese Medicine can help?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help COPD. There are 2 main methods in TCM – acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs can help relieve COPD symptoms by the following ways (In traditional Chinese medicine terminology):

By clearing away the heat and fire from the lung (in modern medical terms, this is probably equivalent to reducing inflammation and infection in the airways and the lung).

By strengthening the lung qi (this is probably equivalent to promoting the immune system and the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.

Responsibility: Kaicun Zhao

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NHS Choices (2015)
http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Accessed: 6 November 2015)

DTB (2011) “Preventing exacerbations in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”, BMJ 2011; 342 doi:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c7207 (Published 24 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7207

Chen, J.C. and Mannino, D.M. (1999) “Worldwide epidemiology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”, Curr Opin Pulm Med 5: 93-9

NICE (2015) http://cks.nice.org.uk/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease#!prescribinginfosub (Accessed: 6 November 2015)

Suzuk, M. et al (2012) “A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)The COPD-Acupuncture Trial (CAT)”, JAMA Internal Medicine, 172(11):878-886