Understanding COPD 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease that includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. COPD affects the lungs and causes reduced airflow, which makes it hard to breathe. It’s also:

  • Progressive (it gets worse over time)
  • Different for everyone
  • Manageable with treatment

What are the common types of COPD?

COPD can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Click on each below to see how they're different:


    Emphysema develops over time and involves the gradual damage of lung tissue, specifically the tiny air sacs called the alveoli. 

    This damage decreases lung surface area and significantly reduces your ability to release the normal amount of air from the lungs resulting in: 

    • oxygen being prevented from moving through the bloodstream
    • difficulty breathing 

    Bronchitis is when the airways in your lungs, your bronchi, become inflamed. This can lead to severe coughing spells causing: 

    • excess mucus production
    • wheezing
    • chest pain 
    • shortness of breath 

    Bronchitis is considered chronic (or long term) if you cough and produce excess mucus most days for at least 3 months per year for 2 consecutive years.

Common symptoms of COPD and flare-ups

COPD Symptoms 

Reduced lung function due to COPD can result in 1 or more of these COPD symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Wheezing 
  • Cough 
  • Chest tightness

Certain COPD symptoms, such as shortness of breath, may affect each individual differently. 

Can COPD symptoms get worse over time?

COPD is a progressive condition and symptoms can get worse over time. That’s why it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you notice a change in any of the symptoms listed above—and to make sure you’re on a treatment that's right for you.

COPD flare-ups

A COPD flare-up (or exacerbation) occurs when your symptoms are severe for several days or weeks (not just when you need your rescue inhaler for sudden symptoms).

Everyone experiences flare-ups differently. Keep in mind that each time you have a flare-up, it may cause damage to your lungs that can be permanent.

What are some of the causes of COPD?

There are several potential causes of COPD, such as:

Smoking may cause COPD

Smoking (firsthand and secondhand)

Inhaling dust may cause COPD


Inhaling chemical fumes may cause COPD

Chemical fumes at work and at home

Air quality icon

Outdoor air pollution

Poor indoor air quality may cause COPD

Indoor air quality 

Respiratory infections may cause COPD

Respiratory infections 

Genetic factors may cause COPD

Genetic factors 

Find out how ANORO works


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There are varying stages of COPD, such as: mild, moderate, severe, or very severe. To find out what stage you’re experiencing, your doctor will examine you; consider your medical history, including symptoms and previous flare-ups; and give you a breathing test (spirometry). The breathing test will tell the doctor if your airflow is limited and where you fall in the GOLD* classification—a scale that measures COPD severity. There are 4 grades or stages in the GOLD classification, with 4 being the most severe.

*Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease

"If you're feeling out of breath, you need to go see a doctor to have testing done... to be diagnosed. Early detection is key." –SHARON, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sharon is a real patient taking ANORO at the time of her interview and was paid for her time by GSK.

Hear Sharon's story

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What you should know