What is COPD?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, occurs when air flow to the lungs is limited by several factors including loss of air sac and airway elasticity, inflamed airways, and destroyed walls between air sacs. This disease is progressive, meaning it gets worse overtime. In the United States, the two main conditions of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, with varying severity among patients. COPD is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States and affects over 16 million people. Overtime, it can lead to limitations in daily activities like walking and taking care of yourself. There is currently no cure to COPD, and damage to the lungs cannot be reversed, but there are lifestyle changes and treatments that can slow the progress and reduce symptoms of the disease.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Family history
  • Age (over 40)
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical fumes or dusts from the workplace
  • Genetic condition: alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Asthma
of COPD cases are linked to smoking


  • Ongoing cough, often with mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing when you breathe
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent colds and respiratory infections
COPD is the number
cause of death in the United States

Pulmonary Function Tests

  • Spirometry: measures amount and speed of air you can blow out, can help detect COPD before symptoms appear
  • Chest x-ray or CT scan: can determine whether COPD or another condition is causing your symptoms
  • Arterial blood gas test: measures oxygen level in your blood, showing the severity of your COPD.


  • Bronchodilators: relax the muscles around your airways, making breathing easier
  • Steroids: More common with severe cases, helps to relieve breathing problems
  • Oxygen Therapy: provides oxygen through nasal prongs or a mask to improve breathing and allow for greater mobility.

More Information

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