- Understanding COPD
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Quiz
- Energizing COPD Diet Foods
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) FAQs
- Patient Comments: COPD - Symptoms
- Patient Comments: COPD - Causes
- Patient Comments: COPD - Treatment
- Patient Comments: COPD - Experience
- Find a local Pulmonologist in your town
- COPD facts
- What is the definition of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
- What causes COPD?
- What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?
- What increases your risk for developing COPD?
- What are the four stages of COPD?
- What other diseases or conditions contribute to COPD?
- What kind of doctor treats COPD?
- When to Seek Medical Care for COPD
- How is COPD diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for COPD?
- What lifestyle changes (diet, exercise) and home remedies and care are recommended for people with COPD?
- What medications treat COPD?
- What other supplemental therapies help treat COPD complications and symptoms?
- What surgery is available to treat COPD?
- Can COPD be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for a person with COPD?
Quick GuideCOPD Stages, Symptoms, Emphysema, Bronchitis
What is the definition of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a slowly progressive obstruction of airflow into or out of the lungs. The incidence of COPD has almost doubled since 1982. Experts have estimated about 32 million persons in the United States have COPD. The disease occurs slightly more often in men than in women. The symptoms (for example, shortness of breath, coughing) come on slowly and many people are consequently diagnosed after age 40-50, although some are diagnosed at a younger age. COPD patients may exhibit symptoms of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.
The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) defines COPD as airflow limitation that is not fully reversible, usually is progressive, and is associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to inhaled noxious particles or gases. This article will focus on COPD and not on other related problems (for example, bronchitis or asthma).
What causes COPD?
The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke. It is estimated that 90% of the risk for development of COPD is related to tobacco smoke. The smoke also can be secondhand smoke (tobacco smoke exhaled by a smoker and then breathed in by a non-smoker).
Other causes of COPD are:
- Prolonged exposure to air pollution, such as that seen with burning coal or wood and with industrial air pollutants
- Infectious diseases: Infectious diseases that destroy lung tissue in patients with hyperactive airways or asthma also may contribute to causing this COPD.
Damage to the lung tissue over time causes physical changes in the tissues of the lungs and clogging of the airways with thick mucus. The tissue damage in the lungs leads to poor compliance (the elasticity, or ability of the lung tissue to expand). The decrease in elasticity of the lungs means that oxygen in the air cannot get by obstructions (for example, thick mucus plugs) to reach air spaces (alveoli) where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs in the lung. Consequently, the person exhibits a progressive difficulty, first coughing to remove obstructions like mucus, and then in breathing, especially with exertion.