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Reston Hospital Center answeredChronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the chronic blockage of airways in the lungs, causing difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. While rare, a genetic disorder known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can also cause COPD. Most people have two normal copies of the gene. If you inherit one mutated gene, you are a carrier and can generally prevent COPD by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, if two alpha-1 deficient genes are inherited, you will likely develop COPD, despite any lifestyle precautions.