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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

  • Frequent coughing or wheezing.

  • Excess phlegm, mucus, or sputum production.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Trouble taking a deep breath.

COPD Risk Factors

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It increases your risk of both developing and dying from COPD. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of COPD cases are caused by smoking. Female smokers are nearly 13 times as likely to die from COPD as women who have never smoked; male smokers are nearly 12 times as likely to die from COPD as men who have never smoked.

Other risk factors for COPD include:

  • Exposure to air pollution

  • Breathing secondhand smoke

  • Working with chemicals, dust and fumes

  • A genetic condition called Alpha-1 deficiency

  • A history of childhood respiratory infection

What Causes COPD?

In the United States, tobacco smoke is a key factor in the development and progression of COPD. Exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors, and respiratory infections also play a role.


  • Quit smoking. For people who smoke, the most important part of treatment is smoking cessation.

  • Avoid tobacco smoke and other air pollutants at home and at work.

  • Ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a personalized treatment program that teaches COPD management strategies to improve quality of life. Programs may include plans that teach people how to breathe better and conserve their energy, as well as provide advice on food and exercise.

  • Take medication. Symptoms such as coughing or wheezing can be treated with medication.

  • Avoid lung infections. Lung infections can cause serious problems in people with COPD. Certain vaccines, such as flu and pneumococcal vaccines, are especially important for people with COPD. Learn more about vaccination recommendations. Respiratory infections should be treated with antibiotics, if appropriate.

  • Use supplemental oxygen. Some people may need to use a portable oxygen tank if their blood oxygen levels are low.


COPD Overview (Mayo Clinic)

5 Steps to Reduce Your Risk for COPD (American Lung Association)

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