About COPD

Did you know?

COPD is the 4th leading cause of death and the 2nd leading cause of disability in the United States.

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lung disease in which the lungs are damaged, making it hard to breathe.  In COPD, the airways are partly obstructed, making it difficult to get air in and out.

Who is at risk?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Most people with COPD are smokers or former smokers.  Breathing in other kinds of lung irritants, like pollution, dust or chemicals, over a long period of time may also cause or contribute to COPD.

COPD develops slowly, and it may be many years before you notice symptoms like feeling short of breath. Most of the time, COPD is diagnosed in middle-aged or older people.

There is no cure for COPD (which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis). The damage to your airways and lungs cannot be reversed, but there are things you can do to feel better and slow the damage. If the lungs are severely damaged, the heart may be affected.  A person with COPD dies when the lungs and heart are unable to function and get oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues, or when a complication such as a severe infection occurs. It is not contagious-you cannot catch it from someone else.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

  • Cough
  • Sputum (mucus) production
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

How is COPD diagnosed?

A medical history, physical exam, and breathing tests are the most important determinants for COPD. Your doctor will use a breathing test called spirometry to confirm a diagnosis of COPD. This test is easy and painless and shows how well your lungs work. Spirometry is the most sensitive and commonly used test of lung functions. It can detect COPD long before you have significant symptoms.

How is COPD treated?

Quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and slow the progress of the disease. The treatment is different for each person. Medicines and pulmonary rehabilitation are often used to help relieve your symptoms and to help you breathe more easily and stay active.

Living with COPD

Although there is no cure for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), your symptoms can be managed, and damage to your lungs can be slowed.  If you smoke, quitting is the most important thing you can do to help your lungs.  You also need to try to stay away from people who are smoking or places where there is smoking.

It is important to keep the air in your home clean. Keep smoke, fumes and strong smells out of your home. If your home is painted or sprayed for insects, have it done when you can stay away from your home. Cook near an open door or window.  If you heat with wood or kerosene, keep a door or window open. Keep your windows closed and stay at home when there is a lot of pollution or dust outside.

See your doctor at least two times a year, even when you are feeling fine. Take your medicines as ordered and make sure to keep them refilled so you don’t run out. Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot and pneumonia vaccination.  Keep your body strong by learning breathing exercises and walking and exercising regularly. Eat healthy foods.

Booklets and pamphlets are available in print or can be downloaded

  • Managing Your Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Learning to Live with COPD