Learn About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is the definition of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common lung disease. Having COPD makes it hard to breathe.

There are two main forms of COPD:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus
  • Emphysema, which involves damage to the lungs over time

Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.

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What are the alternative names for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD; Chronic obstructive airways disease; Chronic obstructive lung disease; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Bronchitis - chronic

What are the causes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop COPD. But some people smoke for years and never get COPD.

If a person has a rare condition in which they lack a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin, they can develop emphysema even without smoking.


Other risk factors for COPD are:

  • Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution
  • Frequent use of a cooking fire without proper ventilation
What are the symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Cough, with or without mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity
  • Trouble catching one's breath
  • Wheezing

Because the symptoms develop slowly, many people may not know that they have COPD.

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What are the current treatments for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

There is no cure for COPD. But there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse.

If you smoke, now is the time to quit. This is the best way to slow lung damage.

Medicines used to treat COPD include:

  • Quick-relief drugs to help open the airways
  • Control drugs to reduce lung inflammation
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the airways
  • Certain long-term antibiotics

In severe cases or during flare-ups, you may need to receive:

  • Steroids by mouth or through a vein (intravenously)
  • Bronchodilators through a nebulizer
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Assistance from a machine to help breathing by using a mask or through the use of an endotracheal tube

Your provider may prescribe antibiotics during symptom flare-ups, because an infection can make COPD worse.

You may need oxygen therapy at home if you have a low level of oxygen in your blood.

Pulmonary rehabilitation does not cure COPD. But it can teach you more about the disease, train you to breathe in a different way so you can stay active and feel better, and keep you functioning at the highest level possible.


You can do things every day to keep COPD from getting worse, protect your lungs, and stay healthy.

Walk to build up strength:

  • Ask the provider or therapist how far to walk.
  • Slowly increase how far you walk.
  • Avoid talking if you get short of breath when you walk.
  • Use pursed lip breathing when you breathe out, to empty your lungs before the next breath.

Things you can do to make it easier for yourself around the home include:

  • Avoid very cold air or very hot weather
  • Make sure no one smokes in your home
  • Reduce air pollution by not using the fireplace and getting rid of other irritants
  • Manage stress and your mood
  • Use oxygen if prescribed for you

Eat healthy foods, including fish, poultry, and lean meat, as well as fruits and vegetables. If it is hard to keep your weight up, talk to a provider or dietitian about eating foods with more calories.

Surgery or other interventions may be used to treat COPD. Only a few people benefit from these surgical treatments:

  • One-way valves can be inserted with a bronchoscopy to help deflate parts of the lung that are hyperinflated (overinflated) in select patients.
  • Surgery to remove parts of the diseased lung, which can help less-diseased parts work better in some people with emphysema (lung volume reduction surgery).
  • Lung transplant for a small number of very severe cases.
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What are the support groups for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD is a long-term (chronic) illness. The disease will get worse more quickly if you do not stop smoking.

If you have severe COPD, you will be short of breath with most activities. You may be admitted to the hospital more often.

Talk with your provider about breathing machines and end-of-life care as the disease progresses.

What are the possible complications of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

With COPD, you may have other health problems such as:

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Need for breathing machine support with a mask (non-invasive ventilation) and oxygen therapy
  • Right-sided heart failure or cor pulmonale (heart swelling and heart failure due to chronic lung disease)
  • Pneumonia
  • Collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
  • Severe weight loss and malnutrition
  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
  • Debilitation
  • Increased anxiety
When should I contact a medical professional for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Go to the emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number if you have a rapid increase in shortness of breath.

How do I prevent Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Not smoking prevents most COPD. Ask your provider about quit-smoking programs. Medicines are also available to help you stop smoking.

Quitting smoking
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)
Respiratory system
What are the latest Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Clinical Trials?
The Effect of Post-Discharge Multiple Nursing Interventions on the Number of Hospital Admissions, Dyspnea Level, and Quality of Life in COPD Patients Receiving Home Oxygen Therapy: A Randomized Controlled Study

Summary: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease characterized by persistent airflow obstruction and chronic respiratory symptoms or alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency in response to inhaled cigarette smoke or other irritants. The excessive morbidity and mortality associated with COPD acute exacerbations represent a significant public health problem that places a high burden ...

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EMPOWER-1: A Multi-site Clinical Cohort Study to Reduce Health Inequality: Identifying Ethnic Disparities in Treatment Failures for Medicines Prescribed to Treat Diseases That Cause Significant Mortality and Morbidity in the UK Population

Summary: Health inequality and genetic disparity are a significant issue in the United Kingdom (UK). This study focuses on diseases that are associated with significant morbidity and mortality in the UK, and specifically examines the extent and basis of treatment failure in different patient populations. The vast majority of drug registration clinical trials have under-representation of ethnic minority pop...

What are the Latest Advances for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?
Mepolizumab as a Potential Protective Factor of COVID-19 Mortality: A Case Report of Chronic Bronchitis and Asthma in an Elderly Patient.
Immunostimulants versus placebo for preventing exacerbations in adults with chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
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Outcomes of catheter ablation for ventricular tachycardia in patients with sarcoidosis: Insights from the National Inpatient Sample database (2002-2018).
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: April 02, 2022
Published By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/06/2023.

What are the references for this article ?

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease: 2023 Report. goldcopd.org/2023-gold-report-2/. Accessed January 6, 2023.

Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 64.

National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. COPD national action plan. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/media/docs/COPD%20National%20Action%20Plan%20508_0.pdf. Updated February 2021. Accessed July 13, 2022.

Rochester CL, Nici L. Pulmonary rehabilitation. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 139.