COPD 101

Information about COPD | COPD 101

What is COPD?

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 is also progressive, which means it worsens over time. Each person is different, but with treatment, symptoms may improve. Your doctor can tell you what treatment is right for you.

1 in 5 Americans have COPD

Approximately 1 in 17 American adults have COPD.

Roughly 15.5 million Americans are diagnosed, but millions more may have COPD and not know it.

What are some of the symptoms of COPD?

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

Symptoms of COPD: Shortness of Breath

SHORTNESS OF BREATH

When you have to work harder to breathe, and find it hard to catch your breath.

Symptoms of COPD: Cough

COUGH

Coughing can occur any time of the day or night.

Symptoms of COPD: Wheezing

WHEEZING

This is a result of air trying to flow through a narrow airway. You may hear a slight whistling or squeaky sound.

Symptoms of COPD: Chest Tightness

CHEST TIGHTNESS

The feeling that something heavy is sitting on your chest, restricting your breathing.

COPD IS A PROGRESSIVE DISEASE.

Though COPD symptoms may develop slowly, over time most people with COPD develop many of these symptoms. COPD is a chronic disease, but your symptoms may vary from day to day. Certain COPD symptoms, like shortness of breath, affect each individual differently. That’s why it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you notice a change in any of the symptoms listed above.

COPD can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. HOW ARE THEY DIFFERENT?

EMPHYSEMA

is a disease that damages the air sacs and may damage the small airways in the lungs. This significantly reduces your ability to release the normal amount of air from the lungs, which causes shortness of breath and prevents the lungs from delivering oxygen into the blood.

CHRONIC BRONCHITIS

involves increased cough and mucus production caused by inflammation of the airways. Bronchitis is considered chronic (or long term) if you cough and produce excess mucus most days for several months during 2 years in a row.

COPD affects how you breathe in and out through your airways. LEARN HOW COPD CAN MAKE BREATHING MORE DIFFICULT.

What are some of the causes of COPD?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. It’s possible to have COPD even if you have never smoked. Secondhand cigarette smoke can also be a cause of COPD.

There are several other potential causes of COPD, such as:

Causes of COPD: Dust

Dust

Chemical fumes at work and at home

Causes of COPD: Air Pollution

Outdoor air pollution

Causes of COPD: Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality

Causes of COPD: Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections

Causes of COPD: Genetic Factors

Genetic factors

“I wanted to breathe better, so I started by quitting smoking.”

How does COPD affect the lungs?

WHEN WE BREATHE, air travels down the windpipe into the lungs and then into smaller airways called bronchial tubes. At the ends of these tubes, there are bunches of tiny elastic air sacs called alveoli, which expand when we breathe in and deflate when we breathe out. This is how the body transfers oxygen into the bloodstream and then releases carbon dioxide waste.

AIRWAYS THAT ARE DAMAGED have walls that become thick and inflamed. The airways make more mucus than usual, which can clog them. The air sacs lose elasticity. (See the diagram to the right.)

How Does COPD Affect The Lungs?
  • Damaged Air Sacs 
  • Healthy Air Sacs 
  • Inflamed Airway 
  • Healthy Airway

“I stopped taking breathing easily for granted.”

Ask your doctor

Use this helpful discussion guide when talking to your doctor or healthcare professional.

DISCUSSION GUIDE

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