What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the term for a group of persistent lung diseases where the airways become blocked, which makes it hard to breathe. Chronic means persistent, and pulmonary relates to the lungs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease where an airflow problem in the lungs makes breathing very difficult. The condition is most often caused by damage to the lungs from smoking cigarettes. The two common forms of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, often occurring together. Typically, people with COPD have chronic shortness of breath and a chronic phlegm-producing cough.

Nearly all cases of COPD, the third leading cause of death in the United States, are preventable, as cigarette smoking causes almost all COPD. The American Lung Association estimates that more than 12 million people have COPD, and this number could be up to 24 million, since some people may not know they have it. Deaths from COPD are greater among women than men, although men experience COPD at a higher overall rate. Sometimes people can miss the early warning signs of COPD, like shortness of breath. Missing these early warning signs often means that the disease is not found until much later and when it has worsened. With early detection, there are treatments available to help manage the disease.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes two lung diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both can disrupt breathing, leading to shortness of breath and difficulty performing everyday activities. Frequently the two exist together. Many cases of COPD may be preventable.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. There are two main components or types of COPD that include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Although there are several environmental and even genetic causes of COPD, smoking is the primary cause of most COPD cases.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the lung diseases grouped together under the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), develop gradually over many years, as the airways become narrowed and the lungs lose their ability to expand and contract effectively when you breathe. In most people with COPD, these problems stem from inflammation that occurs when something—most often cigarette smoke—irritates the respiratory tract.

The irritant can damage the cells that line the airways and can cause changes in the glands and cells that normally produce small amounts of mucus to lubricate the airway walls. In response, the body unleashes a flood of inflammatory cells, which start a chemical cascade that further damages the airways and degrades lung tissue. The cells infiltrate the walls of the airways and trigger the production of mucus inside the airways, leaving less room for air to pass. They also prompt the release of enzymes that eventually break down the lung tissue. By the time symptoms—coughing and breathlessness—are apparent, 50 to 70 percent of lung tissue may be lost.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the chronic blockage of airways in the lungs. This blockage causes air to be trapped in the lungs even after a person exhales, resulting in shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. COPD includes two related diseases, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Individuals with COPD usually have a combination of both. In the United States alone, over 16 million people suffer from COPD, and it is the fourth most common cause of death.  Smoking is the most common cause of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness.

Many people mistake their increased breathlessness and coughing as a normal part of aging. In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath. You begin to see the symptoms in the more developed stages of the disease. That’s why it is important that you talk to your doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms. Ask your doctor about taking a spirometry test.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.