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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to two long-term lung diseases -- chronic bronchitis and emphysema -- that often occur together. COPD makes it hard for you to breathe.


Tubes called airways carry air into and out of your lungs. If you have COPD, these airways may become partly blocked from swelling or mucus. This makes it hard to breathe.

At the end of the airways are many tiny air sacs. They’re like little balloons that inflate and deflate when you breathe in and out. With COPD, these sacs become less flexible. This can cause small airways to cave in. It can also make it harder for you to breathe.


Long-term exposure to lung irritants that damage the lungs and the airways usually is the cause of COPD.  In the United States, the most common irritant that causes COPD is cigarette smoke. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke also can cause COPD, especially if the smoke is inhaled.

Breathing in secondhand smoke, which is in the air from other people smoking; air pollution; or chemical fumes or dusts from the environment or workplace also can contribute to COPD.

Rarely, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may play a role in causing COPD.

In some cases, people with asthma can also develop COPD


At first, COPD may cause no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, symptoms usually become more severe.


Common signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • An ongoing cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus; this is often called smoker's cough.

  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity

  • Wheezing or a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe

  • Chest tightness

If you have COPD, you also may often have colds or other respiratory infections such as the flu, or influenza.

Some severe symptoms may require treatment in a hospital. You—or, if you are unable, family members or friends—should seek emergency care if you are experiencing the following:

  • You are having a hard time catching your breath or talking.

  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray, a sign of a low oxygen level in your blood.

  • People around you notice that you are not mentally alert.

  • Your heartbeat is very fast.

  • The recommended treatment for symptoms that are getting worse is not working.

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