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What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Christine Johnson

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of progressive lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma. The lungs lose their elastic quality, and the airways are inflamed and make more mucus than usual. This significantly impacts your ability to breathe. COPD has no cure, although there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can be effective in improving symptoms and prolonging life.

Symptoms of COPD

The symptoms of COPD can vary and can range from mild to serious. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, seek medical attention. Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent coughing, both with and without mucus
  • Difficulty doing activities that require physical exertion
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Loss of mental acuity, lack of mental alertness
  • Fingers, toes, lips, and other extremities turn blue or gray

COPD Causes and Risk Factors

COPD is generally caused by long-term exposure to irritants and pollutants that damage the lungs. In the United States, cigarette smoke is the most common irritant and the leading cause of COPD. Air pollution indoors and outdoors can impact COPD, as well as respiratory infections and genetic factors. 

COPD disproportionately affects people above the age of 65, smokers, and people who frequently encounter irritants and pollutants in the workplace or in the home.

How to Prevent COPD  

The best way to prevent COPD from developing is to avoid smoking or quit altogether. Avoid other irritants and pollutants that can damage your lungs. Take precautions to avoid respiratory infections, by getting vaccinated for the flu, pneumonia, and other common illnesses. Understand your environment and what your personal risk factors are. If you are concerned about COPD, consult with a medical professional.