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What increases my risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Long term cigarette smoking is the primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The longer you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk for developing COPD. Secondhand smoke, air pollution and some chemical fumes can also lead to COPD. In some cases, a severe form of acid reflux disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, may cause COPD. While extremely rare, a genetic disorder known as alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency can also cause COPD.

The risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increases mostly because of inhaling substances that damage the lungs. COPD most often occurs in people over the age of 40 who have a history of smoking. This is because smoking directly damages the lining of the airways. Not all smokers get chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but the majority of those with COPD have smoked.

Breathing in other people’s smoke can also cause COPD. COPD can happen too in people who have been exposed for a long time to harmful pollutants, like chemicals, dust and fumes at work. Rarely, COPD can happen in non-smokers and in those not exposed to pollutants.

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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.