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Glossary of COPD Terms

Aerosol: A solution of a drug that is made into a fine mist for inhalation.

Acinus: The berrylike ending of a tiny airway in the lung, where the alveoli (air sacs) are located.

Acute: Severe or with sudden onset and short timespan.

Airways: Tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs.

Airway obstruction: A narrowing, clogging, or blocking of the passages that carry air to the lungs.

Alpha-1- antitrypsin: (See alpha-1-protease inhibitor.)

Alpha-1- protease inhibitor: A substance in blood transported to the lungs that inhibits the digestive activity of trypsin and other proteases which digest proteins. Deficiency of this substance is associated with emphysema.

Antibiotic: A drug that kills or inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Antibodies: Specific proteins produced by the body's immune system that bind with foreign proteins (antigens).

Artery: A blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Asthma: Respiratory condition caused by narrowing of the airways; symptoms include recurrent attacks of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and labored breathing.


Bronchi: Larger air passages of the lungs.

Bronchiole: The smaller airways of the lungs.

Bronchiolitis: Inflammation of the bronchioles, usually caused by a viral infection.

Broncho-constriction: Tightening of the muscles surrounding bronchi, the tubes that branch from the windpipe.  

Bronchodilator: A drug that relaxes the smooth muscles of the airways and relieves constriction of the bronchi.

Bronchopulmonary: Pertaining to the lungs and air passages.


Capillaries: The smallest blood vessels in the body through which most of the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nutrient exchanges take place.

Cell: Basic subunit of every living organism; the simplest unit that can exist as an independent living system.

Chronic: Of long duration; frequently recurring.  

Continuous positive airway: A mechanical ventilation technique used to deliver continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) pressure.
Cor pulmonale: Heart disease that results from resistance to the passage of blood through the lungs; it often leads to right heart failure.

Corticosteroids: Drugs that mimic the action of a group of hormones produced by adrenal glands; they are anti-inflammatory and act as bronchodilators.

Cyanosis: Bluish color of the skin due to insufficient oxygen in the blood.

Cystic fibrosis: A serious genetic disease of excretory glands, affecting lungs and other organs; it causes production of very thick mucus that interferes with normal digestion and breathing.


Diffusion: (DLCO) The movement of oxygen or carbon dioxide across the membrane of the alveoli to the blood. 

A drug that promotes the excretion of salt and water by the kidney.

Duct: A passage or tube with well-defined walls for the passage of air or liquids.

Dysplasia: Abnormal development or growth.

Dyspnea: Shortness of breath; difficult or labored breathing.


Edema: Abnormal accumulation of fluid in body tissues.  

Elastin: An elastic substance in the lungs (and some other body organs) that support their structural framework.
Elastase inhibitors or Antielastases: Substances in the blood transported to the lungs and other organs which prevent the digestive action of elastases.
Elastin degrading enzymes (elastases): Substances in the blood transported to the lungs and other organs which digest or breakdown elastin.

Emphysema: Chronic lung disease in which there is permanent destruction of alveoli.


Gas exchange: Primary function of the lungs; transfer of oxygen from inhaled air into the blood and of carbon dioxide from the blood into the lungs.

Genetic: Inherited through genes passed on by one or both parents.


Hyaline membrane disease: A respiratory disease of newborns, especially premature infants, in which a membrane composed of proteins and dead cells forms and lines the alveoli making gas exchange difficult or impossible.

Hypertension: High blood pressure.

Hypoventilation: A state in which there is an insufficient amount of air entering and leaving the lungs to bring oxygen into tissues and eliminate carbon dioxide.
Hypoxemia: Deficient oxygenation of the blood.
Hypoxia: A state in which there is oxygen deficiency.


Immunization: Protection from disease by administering vaccines that induce the body to form antibodies against infectious agents.

Inflammation: Response of the body tissues to injury; typical signs are swelling, redness, and pain.

Intermittent positive pressure breathing (IPPB) machine: A device that assists intermittent positive pressure inhalation of therapeutic aerosols without hand coordination required in the use of hand nebulizers or metered dose inhalers.


Laser: In the context of a therapeutic tool, it is a device that produces a high-intensity light that can generate extreme heat instantaneously when it hits a target.

Lavage: To wash a body organ.
Mechanical ventilation: Use of a machine called a ventilator or respirator to improve the exchange of air between the lungs and the atmosphere.

Membrane: Thin, flexible film of proteins and lipids that encloses the contents of a cell; it controls the substances that go into and come out of the cell. Also, a thin layer of tissue that covers the surface or lines the cavity of an organ.

Mucus: A thick fluid produced by the lining of some organs of the body.


Oxygen: Colorless odorless gas that makes up about 20 percent of the air we breathe; it is essential to life because it is used for the chemical reactions that occur in the cells of the body.


Pathogenesis: The cellular events and reactions that occur in the development of disease.

Pathophysiology: Altered functions in an individual or an organ due to disease.

Pneumonia: Inflammation of the lungs.

Pneumothorax: Accumulation of air or gas in the space between the lung and chest wall, resulting in partial or complete collapse of the lung.

Positive pressure ventilation: Provision of oxygen under pressure by a mechanical respirator.

Postural bronchial drainage: Draining of liquids from the lungs by placing the patient in postures (e.g., head below chest) which facilitate liquid flow.

Progressive: Increasing in severity.

Pulmonary: Pertaining to the lungs.

Pulmonary hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.


Respiration: Process of exchanging oxygen from the air for carbon dioxide from the body; includes the mechanical process of breathing, gas exchange, and oxygen and carbon dioxide transport to and from the cells.

Respiratory distress syndrome: A lung disease that occurs primarily in premature infants; the newborn must struggle for each breath and blueing of its skin reflects the baby's inability to get enough oxygen.

Respiratory failure: Inability of the lungs to conduct gas exchange.

Risk factors: Habits, traits, or conditions in a person or in the environment that are associated with an increased chance (risk) of disease.


Surfactant: Fluid secreted by the cells of the alveoli that reduces the surface tension of pulmonary fluids; it contributes to the elastic properties of pulmonary tissue.

Symptom: Any indication of disease noticed or felt by a patient; in contrast, a sign of an illness is an objective observation.

Symptomatic treatment: Therapy that eases symptoms without addressing the cause of disease.


Vaccination: Administration of weakened or killed bacteria or virus to stimulate immunity and protection against further exposure to that agent.

Ventilation: Exchange of air between the lungs and the atmosphere so that oxygen can be exchanged for carbon dioxide at the alveoli.

Ventilator: A breathing machine that is used to treat respiratory failure by promoting ventilation; also called a respirator.


Wheezing: Breathing with a rasp or whistling sound; a sign of airway constriction or obstruction.

Source: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

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