Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects millions across the country

Each November, the COPD community comes together to promote better understanding of COPD, a progressive lung disease that affects millions across the country. Increasing awareness about COPD and its symptoms is important because early diagnosis and treatment can improve quality of life.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common conditions that make up COPD. Damage to the lungs from COPD can’t be reversed. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, or a chronic cough.

How can I tell if I have COPD?
COPD is diagnosed with a simple breathing test called spirometry, which can detect COPD before symptoms present. The hallmark of COPD is that the air leaves the lung slower than normal during a forced expiration.

How is COPD treated?
Smoking cessation, immunization against influenza and pneumonia, and the use of various bronchodilator medications are effective treatments. In advanced stages, oxygen may be required, and in some cases, lung transplantation or surgical removal of localized emphysema may be employed.

what is copd

How Can I Prevent COPD?

The best way to prevent COPD is to never start smoking, and if you smoke, quit. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. Also, stay away from secondhand smoke. Here are ways to help you prevent COPD:


Avoid Close Contact With People Who Have Respiratory Infections

Repeated lower respiratory infections, pneumonia, and acute bronchitis can produce scarring. This is particularly true in young children. Scarring contributes to the development of COPD. Whenever possible, try to avoid close contact with people who have contagious respiratory infections. Get a pneumonia vaccination if you are 65 years or older, or have risk factors for pneumonia. Make sure you get yearly flu shots.

Have a Blood Test to Determine Levels of Alpha-1-Antitrypsin

If someone in your family developed COPD but never smoked, or developed the disease at an early age, you may have a genetic defect that increases your risk of the disease. You should consider having a blood test to measure levels of alpha-1-antitrypsin. This is an important protein that helps protect the lungs from damage due to inflammation. Low levels of this protein increase your risk of developing COPD. You should discuss this with your doctor.

Quit Smoking

Almost all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. Never smoking, or quitting if you already smoke, are the single most important steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing COPD.

Manage Environmental Exposures

Try to avoid or limit exposure to:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Dust
  • Fumes
  • Environmental smoke (such as smoke from burning wood, charcoal, crop residue)

Be aware of air pollution alerts. Avoid outdoor activities when air quality is particularly poor. Do not exercise in areas where levels of car exhaust are high.

How Can COPD Be Managed?

This video is by Learn More, Breathe Better — a program sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their goal is to bring greater visibility to lung health by translating research for public and professional education programs. Dr. Weinmann is Deputy Director of NHLBI’s Division of Lung Diseases.