COPD Care Team

COPD Overview 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a common, preventable, and treatable disease that is characterized by persistent respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation that is due to airway and/or alveolar abnormalities. This is usually caused by significant exposure to noxious particles or gasses. COPD can be overwhelming to patients because breathing becomes increasingly labored over time.

In COPD, less air flows in and out of the lungs for a variety of reasons.
These include:

  • Airways and air sacs lose their elasticity
  • Walls between some air sacs are destroyed
  • Walls of the airways become thick and inflamed
  • Airways make more mucus than usual, clogging themselves

The chronic airflow limitation that is characteristic of COPD is caused by a mixture of:

  • Parenchymal destruction (Emphysema), where the walls of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged and lose their elasticity. The walls of the air sacs can be destroyed leading to fewer and larger air sacs, reducing the amount of gas exchange in the lungs
  • Small airways disease (obstructive bronchiolitis), where the lining inside the airways is irritated and inflamed. Excess mucus is formed making it hard to breathe

The Epidemiology of COPD
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and an additional 12 million people are likely to have COPD without knowing it. Severe COPD can get in the way of doing even the most basic tasks, such as light housekeeping, taking a walk, bathing, and getting dressed.

Risk Factors for COPD include:

  • Current or former cigarette, pipe, cigar, water pipe, or marijuana smokers
  • Smoke from home cooking/heating fuels
  • Occupational dusts, vapors, fumes, gases, or chemicals
  • Genetic factors
  • Diagnosed with asthma as a child

Next page: Diagnosing COPD