Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease that makes it difficult for air to move into and out of the lungs.
COPD is used to describe a few lung diseases with similar symptoms that make breathing difficult: the most common are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
In the majority of cases, COPD is caused by cigarette smoking. Shortness of breath (or a “need for air”), increased mucous and coughing are symptoms that are frequently seen in people with COPD. Some people even say that it feels like they’re breathing through a straw.
COPD is a disease that progresses slowly. And treating it early can greatly improve symptoms, even in the very early stages of the disease.
What are the common signs and symptoms of COPD?
COPD is more than a smoker’s cough. It is a chronic disease with symptoms that increase in severity over time. The main symptoms of COPD are:
- Shortness of breath
- A cough that lasts for more than 3 months
- Weight loss (even though not trying)
- Coughing up a lot of clear and thick mucus (phlegm)
- Feeling tired (fatigue)
- Frequent lung infections (colds, flu, etc.)
There are ways to measure to what degree COPD affects regular airflow in the lungs. A simple spirometry test can be used to determine the extent of airway obstruction by measuring how much air can be moved out of the lungs.
What causes COPD?
- Many people think common COPD symptoms such as coughing and breathlessness are just a normal part of getting older, but this is not the case.
- Cigarette smoking is the most important cause of COPD by far, as it is responsible for about 90% of cases. The longer someone smokes, the greater their chances of developing COPD. Smoking pipes or cigars can also lead to COPD.
- Other things that can cause COPD are:
- Second-hand smoke
- Air pollution at work and in the environment
- Having repeated chest infections during childhood
- A rare genetic disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
Can COPD be prevented?
Most of the time, COPD can be prevented. Since most cases of COPD are caused by smoking, people can prevent COPD by not smoking. Smokers can reduce their chance of getting COPD by quitting as soon as possible – it’s never too late to quit.
Living with COPD: taking charge of your own care
If you are living with COPD, there are many things you can do to live as long, as active and as comfortable a life as possible.
Taking an active interest in managing COPD is the first step in taking charge of your health. Whether you are in the early or later stages of COPD, there are steps you can take to prevent further lung damage and make you feel better.
- Quitting smoking: the single most important thing you can do to help yourself.
- Caring for yourself: stay positive, keep moving and eat well.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation (also called respiratory rehabilitation): get the most out of every breath.
Want more information and support? Search “COPD” in Find Support for organizations in your area.