What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is a blanket term to describe some progressive lung diseases (chronic bronchitis, emphysema, some forms of asthma, and bronchiectasis) characterized by an increased difficulty to breathe over time.

It is very common (affecting close to 24 million individuals in the U.S.) and is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath. You begin to see the symptoms in the more developed stages of the disease. That's why it is important that you talk to your doctor as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. If you think you may have COPD, ask your doctor about taking a spirometry test. This is a test commonly done to measure how much and how quickly you can move air in and out of your lungs by breathing into a mouthpiece attached to a spirometer.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

  • Increased breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent coughing
  • Tightness in the chest

What causes COPD?

Most cases of COPD are caused by inhaling pollutants through:

  • Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars)
  • Breathing in second-hand smoke
  • Fumes, chemicals and dust found in many work environments

Genetics can also play a role in an individual's development of COPD. Someone can contract COPD even if the person has never smoked or has ever been exposed to strong lung irritants in the workplace.

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