What Are 4 Major Risk Factors for COPD?

Medically Reviewed on 2/2/2023

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Risk Factors for COPD
Making certain lifestyle changes could lower your risk of developing COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic and progressive lung disease that is characterized by airflow obstruction in the lungs. It worsens over time.

COPD includes two main conditions:

  1. Emphysema: Breathing difficulty due to alveoli damage.
  2. Chronic bronchitis: Inflammation of the lining of the airways.

COPD is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, and it is estimated to affect more than 10 percent of people older than 40 years.

4 modifiable risk factors for COPD

Certain precautions and lifestyle changes can help modify the following risk factors of COPD.

  1. Tobacco use
    • The most significant risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is smoking tobacco, which includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other forms of smoked tobacco.
    • Smoking damages the airways and the alveoli (small air sacs) in the lungs, leading to inflammation, scarring, and airflow obstruction.
    • Exposure to secondhand smoke (passive smoking), which is the smoke exhaled by a smoker or that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, can increase the risk of COPD.
  2. Occupational exposure
    • Certain chemicals, fumes, and dust in the workplace may increase the risk of developing COPD.
    • Occupations include farming, construction, and manufacturing.
  3. Air pollution
    • Such as vehicle exhaust or industrial emissions.
  4. Respiratory infections

2 non-modifiable risk factors for COPD

  1. Genetics
    • Alpha-1 deficiency-related emphysema is an inherited condition. It can make the person unable to produce alpha-1 antitrypsin protein, which protects the lungs.
    • It leads to emphysema.
  2. Aging
    • Mostly affects people older than 40 years.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The most common symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) include:

These symptoms can worsen with exposure to cold air, exercise, or respiratory infections.

How is COPD diagnosed?

Your doctor usually makes a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after analyzing your medical history, which includes presenting symptoms, smoking history, occupational hazards, and family history.

Your doctor conducts a physical examination and listens to your breathing with a stethoscope. They may order a series of breathing tests to assess the function of the lungs.

To confirm the diagnosis of COPD and determine the severity of the disease, the following tests are done:

  • Spirometry
    • Assesses the functionality of the lungs
    • Measures how much air you can inhale and exhale and how rapidly you can exhale it
  • Chest X-ray and CT
    • Produce images of the inside of the chest, which can help your doctor look for signs of COPD, such as an enlarged heart or scarring in the lungs.
  • Arterial blood gas test
    • Measures oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life.


COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the same as adult-onset asthma. See Answer

What are the treatment options for COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has no cure. However, treatments can help manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

  • Medications
    • Bronchodilators: Help relax and open the airways, making breathing easier. 
      • There are two types of bronchodilators:
        • Short-acting bronchodilators: Provide quick relief from symptoms
        • Long-acting bronchodilators: Taken daily to control symptoms.
    • Corticosteroids:
      • Reduce inflammation in the airways and improve breathing.
      • Available as inhalers, pills, and vials (for intravenous administration).
    • Mucolytics: Thin and loosen mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up and remove.
  • Oxygen therapy
    • For severe COPD, oxygen therapy could be recommended to improve oxygen levels in the blood.
    • An oxygen tank or a machine delivers concentrated oxygen to the person through a mask or nasal cannula.
  • Lifestyle changes
    • Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and avoiding exposure to air pollution can help manage the symptoms of COPD and slow the progression of the disease.
  • Surgery
    • Resects the damaged parts of the lungs or repairs abnormalities that cause airflow obstruction.
    • Common surgeries for COPD are:
      • Lung volume reduction surgery
      • Lung transplantation

The primary goal of treatment is to improve the quality of life and prevent complications of COPD.

Medically Reviewed on 2/2/2023
Image Source: iStock image

COPD. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679

COPD Causes and Risk Factors. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/what-causes-copd

COPD. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/copd