What Is the Major Cause of COPD?

Medically Reviewed on 2/11/2022
Major Cause of COPD
COPD is caused by long-term exposure to things that irritate the airways, such as smoking.

Exposure to things that irritate the airways for the long term is the most common cause of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Due to COPD, the airways become inflamed, damaged, and narrowed. The main cause is cigarette smoking although the condition can sometimes affect people who have never smoked. About 85 to 90 percent of all COPD cases are caused by smoking.

Other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust. Some rare causes of COPD include a rare genetic problem that makes the lungs more vulnerable to damage (anti-trypsin deficiency).

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a name for a group of lung diseases that cause breathing difficulties.

Normally, airways and air sacs in the lungs are elastic or stretchy. While breathing in, the air sacs fill with air, such as a small balloon. While breathing out, the air sacs deflate, and air goes out.

In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways because of one or more of the following problems:

  • Airways and air sacs in the lungs become less elastic (increased pulmonary resistance).
  • Walls between the air sacs become destroyed.
  • Airways become thick and inflamed.
  • Airways become clogged due to more mucus production.

Who is at a risk of COPD?

Risk factors for the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include:

2 types of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes two types:

  1. Emphysema: It is a condition that affects the air sacs and walls between them. They become damaged, lose elasticity, and stay permanently overinflated.
  2. Chronic bronchitis: It is a condition in which the airway lining is constantly irritated and inflamed. This causes the lining to create more mucus and clog the airways.

Most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but the severity of each type can be different for different people.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) might have no symptoms or only mild symptoms at first. As the disease develops over time, symptoms usually become more severe.

In severe cases, COPD can cause weight loss without trying, weakness in the lower muscles, and swelling in the ankles, feet, or legs.

How is COPD diagnosed?

Various tools are used in clinics to make a diagnosis, such as:

  • Medical history that includes asking about symptoms and smoking or childhood asthma history
  • Family history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
  • History of occupational exposure to chemicals and irritants
  • Multiple tests including lung function tests such as spirometry, a chest X-ray or computed tomography scan, and blood tests

The diagnosis of COPD depends mainly on signs and symptoms, medical and family histories, and test results.

What are the treatment options available for COPD?

Currently, there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, treatments can help slow the progress of the disease, control symptoms and improve the ability to stay active. There are treatments available to prevent or treat complications of the disease.

Treatment options include:

  • Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke and places
  • Inhalers such as bronchodilators and tablets to help make breathing easier
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation (a program that helps improve the well-being of people who have chronic breathing problems)
    • Exercise program
    • Disease management training
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Psychological counseling
  • Surgery or a lung transplant for people who have severe symptoms that have not gotten better with medicines


COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the same as adult-onset asthma. See Answer
Medically Reviewed on 2/11/2022
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