What is COPD?

Download the What is COPD – What You Need to Know PDF.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. It can include chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both. There is no cure for COPD, but it can be managed and the progression of the disease can be slowed.

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Half of all people with COPD are not diagnosed. Talk to your health care provider if you have symptoms of COPD.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

In the early stages of COPD, there may be no noticeable symptoms and COPD may worsen over time. Signs and symptoms vary and may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough with or without mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

What causes COPD?

COPD is caused by damaged lung tissue and/or mucus buildup that makes it hard for the lungs to absorb oxygen and carry it to the rest of the body. The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, pollution, chemical fumes or dust, may also lead to the disease.

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed with a breathing test. This test will take measurement of the amount of air you are able to breathe in and out of your lungs. This test will help diagnose COPD. Once COPD is diagnosed, your healthcare provider can work with you to determine an action plan to control your COPD.

Because COPD worsens over time, it is important that it is diagnosed early to manage symptoms before they become severe. People who may need a breathing test for COPD include:

  • People who smoke or smoked in the past
  • A history of exposure to lung irritants
  • A family history of the disease
  • Are experiencing symptoms

What can you do to manage COPD?

Quitting smoking is the most important way to lessen COPD symptoms. Also, reduce your exposure to strong odors such as perfume and home cleansers, dust, fumes, gases and indoor/outdoor air pollution.

Other ways to manage COPD include:

  • Exercising
  • Taking medications
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • A lung transplant

Talk to a health care provider to see what’s right for you.