Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD is a lung disease usually caused by smoking. COPD is a “progressive” disease, which means that the disease gets worse over time. COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Many people with COPD have both bronchitis and emphysema.

What does COPD do to my lungs?

COPD slowly damages your airways, the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. COPD makes your airways inflamed and partly blocked by mucus. It also damages the tiny air sacs at the ends of your airways. This makes it hard to move air in and out of your lungs, which often become overinflated.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The main symptoms of COPD are a cough, coughing up mucus and short of breath on exertion, wheezing and frequent chest infections.

How do doctors diagnose COPD?

Doctors suspect COPD based on your symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis of COPD requires a simple test of your lung function, called spirometry, which measures how much air you can move out of your lungs.

Why is it important to get COPD diagnosed early?

When COPD is diagnosed early, it's easier to treat. If you don't catch COPD early, it will be harder to treat and you will have more symptoms and more lung damage. If you think you might have COPD, you should talk to your family doctor.

What causes COPD?

In countries like Canada, smoking causes about 90 per cent of COPD cases. Other things that can cause COPD are:

  • Air pollution (dust or chemicals), for example at work
  • A rare genetic condition called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

Can we prevent COPD?

Yes. We can prevent most cases of COPD by not smoking and by staying away from other air pollution. If you smoke, you can reduce your chance of getting COPD by quitting as soon as possible. It's never too late to quit smoking-learn how and get help.

What's the outlook for COPD? What can I expect?

COPD is progressive - it gets worse over time. Having COPD may put you at risk for other health problems, including:

  • Frequent chest infections, including pneumonia and the flu (influenza)
  • Phypertension: higher-than-usual blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs
  • Heart problems
  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis: thinning of the bones
  • Eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts
  • Cachexia: losing body weight and muscle, losing your appetite, feeling nauseated and weak
  • Malnutrition: not getting enough nutrients from food, not eating enough
  • Weak muscles
  • Lung cancer

What's the treatment for COPD?

There is no cure for COPD, but there are good treatments available. These include:

  • Quitting smoking and staying away from smoke and air pollution
  • Taking COPD medications, which can include inhalers (puffers), oxygen and pills
  • Recognizing and treating COPD flare-ups, times when COPD symptoms get worse
  • Using special breathing techniques when you're short of breath
  • Making lifestyle changes to save energy and feel better: getting your vaccines updated, eating well, remaining physically active, and make other healthy changes

Note: Most of the information on this page is provided from The Lung Association website.