About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lower respiratory tract disorder which leads to airway obstruction. This obstruction causes a number of symptoms including cough and shortness of breath.  These symptoms intensify over time and when the disease is very severe patients with COPD can have trouble with simple tasks like bathing and walking.  COPD is also a growing health issue, having recently surpassed stroke as the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking but air pollution and exposures to dusts and chemicals can also contribute.  The disease is diagnosed with simple breathing tests.  Many smokers don't even know they have COPD because they have not been tested.

Patients with COPD also often suffer sudden worsening of their breathing.  These episodes are call "acute exacerbations" and are a major cause of doctor visits, ER visits and hospitalizations.  These episodes are often caused by bacterial or viral infections or exposure to pollutants but underlying heart disease, whether known or undiagnosed, can trigger or make exacerbations worse.  Many medications can reduce COPD symptoms and prevent some exacerbations but there is currently no cure for COPD and more treatments are needed.   In this study we will test whether beta-blockers, drugs often used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, can reduce the risk and severity of exacerbations.