By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

Know the basis

What is COPD?

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a respiratory disease that causes difficulty breathing by blocking the airway of your lungs. It is a progressive disease, which means it worsens over time. More than 3 million people died of COPD in 2012, which is equal to 6% of all deaths globally that year. There are two main types of COPD. Some people who have COPD may have both of these conditions.

  • Chronic bronchitis. Bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. The lining in your bronchial tubes of your lungs gets red, swollen, and full of mucus. This mucus blocks your tubes and makes it hard to breathe.
  • Emphysema. Emphysema gradually damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs, making you progressively more short of breath. You lose alveoli in your lungs. This makes it hard for you to get oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of your blood. It also makes it harder to breathe out.

There are two main parts of your lung: the bronchial tubes (also called airways) and alveoli (also called air sacs). There is also the trachea (or windpipe). When you breathe in, the air goes from your windpipe through the bronchial tubes to the alveoli. From the alveoli, oxygen goes into your blood while carbon dioxide moves out of your blood. This is how you can breathe normally. Any disruption with your airflow will lead to shortness of breath, lack of oxygen to your lungs and the rest of your body. You should seek medical attention as early as possible.


What are the causes of COPD?

COPD is caused by blockage or tissue damage of the lungs. This type of damage typically occurs when you regularly breathe in irritants over a long period of time. Common irritants may include:

  • Smoking (including second-hand smoke). Long-term smoking causes approximately 80% to 90% of COPD cases.
  • Chemical fumes, gasses, vapors, or mists;
  • Dust;
  • Indoor air pollution (such as solid fuel used for cooking and heating);
  • Outdoor air pollution;
  • Occupational dust and chemicals (vapors, irritants, and fumes);
  • Frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood.

Risk factors

Who is at risk of COPD?

The main risk for COPD is smoking. In addition to smoking are other irritants and pollutants that can damage the lungs. You may find more pollutants in developing countries. Here are other risk factors that can increase your risk for COPD:

  • People aged 65–74 years;
  • Non-Hispanic whites;
  • Individuals who were unemployed, retired, or unable to work;
  • Individuals with less than a high school education;
  • People with lower incomes;
  • Individuals who were divorced, widowed, or separated;
  • Current or former smokers;
  • Those with a history of asthma.

Signs and symptoms

What are the symptoms of COPD?

COPD affects the respiratory system, which can cause many signs and symptoms causes breathing problems. COPD can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Chronic (long-lasting) cough;
  • A cough that produces mucus, which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color. Rarely, it may be streaked with blood.
  • An increase in respiratory infections (such as flu and colds);
  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity;
  • A tight feeling in the chest;
  • Wheezing;
  • Fatigue;
  • Slight fever and chills.

At first, you may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. But COPD is a progressive disease, meaning the symptoms start slowly and get worse over time. COPD symptoms develop over the course of many years. Eventually, the symptoms begin to affect your activity levels and quality of life. Some severe symptoms may require treatment in a hospital. You should seek emergency care if you have the following problems:

  • You’re having a hard time catching your breath or talking.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray. (This is a sign of a low oxygen level in your blood.)
  • You’re not mentally alert.
  • Your heartbeat is very fast.
  • The recommended treatment for symptoms that are getting worse isn’t working.

If there are any concerns of a symptom or a symptom not mentioned above, you should discuss with your doctor for more information.


What are the complications may happen?

If you have COPD, you are at risk for complications. Some complications may include:

  • Heart problems: COPD can cause an irregular heartbeat (called arrhythmia) and heart failure.
  • High blood pressure: COPD can cause high pressure in the vessels that bring blood to your lungs. This is called pulmonary hypertension.
  • Respiratory infections: You are more likely to have frequent colds, the flu, or even pneumonia (a serious lung infection by virus or fungi). These infections can make your symptoms worse or cause more lung damage. You should have a flu shot every year and talk to your doctor about whether you need a pneumonia shot. You are less likely to get flu or pneumonia if you have these shots.

Diagnosis and tests

How is COPD diagnosed?

Because COPD develops slowly, it is frequently diagnosed in people aged 40 or older. Your doctor will diagnose COPD based on your signs and symptoms, your medical and family histories, and test results.

Your doctor may ask whether you smoke or have had contact with lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust. Your doctor will also examine you and use a stethoscope to listen for wheezing or other abnormal chest sounds.

  • Lung function tests: Lung function tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe air out, and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your blood.
  • Spirometry: This is used to test your ability to breathe. You will take a deep breath and then blow as hard as you can into a machine called spirometer. The machine measures how much air you breathe out and how fast you can blow air out.
  • A chest x-ray or chest CT scan: these tests create pictures of the structures inside your chest, such as your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The pictures can show signs of COPD.

Blood tests. This blood test measures the oxygen level in your blood using a sample of blood taken from an artery. The results from this test can show how severe your COPD is and whether you need

Treatment and management

What are the treatments for COPD?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD. The best method to deal with COPD is prevention and management. The goals of COPD treatment include:

  • Relieving your symptoms;
  • Slowing the progress of the disease;
  • Improving your ability to stay active;
  • Preventing and treating complications.


  • Bronchodilators: medications to make breathing easier by relaxing the muscles in the lungs and widening the airways.
  • Combination bronchodilators plus inhaled corticosteroids (a type of steroid to reduce inflammation in the lungs).


  • Flu shots;
  • Pneumococcal vaccine (a vaccine to prevent diseases is caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumonia, or pneumococcus);
  • Oxygen therapy.


Surgery usually is a last resort for people who have severe symptoms that have not improved from taking medicines. It mainly related to emphysema include bullectomy and lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). A lung transplant might be an option for people who have very severe COPD.

  • Bullectomy, which is the removal of air pockets (bulla) in the lung;
  • Lung volume reduction surgery;
  • Lung transplant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a plan to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (non-infectious diseases that do not pass from one person to another). WHO aims to:

  • Raise awareness about the global epidemic of non-communicable diseases.
  • Create more healthy environments, especially for poor and disadvantaged populations.
  • Decrease risk factors of non-communicable disease such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.
  • Prevent premature deaths and avoidable disabilities from major non-communicable diseases.

How can I manage COPD?

Lifestyle changes and treatments can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of COPD.

Quit smoking and avoid lung irritants

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit.
  • Try to avoid lung irritants that can contribute to COPD. Examples include secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust.
  • Keep these irritants out of your home. If your home is painted or sprayed for insects, have it done when you can stay away for a while.
  • Keep your windows closed and stay at home (if possible) when there’s a lot of air pollution or dust outside.

Get ongoing medical care

  • It is important to get ongoing medical care. Take all of your medicines as your doctor prescribes. Make sure to refill your prescriptions before they run out. Bring a list of all the medicines you are taking when you have medical checkups.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether and when you should get flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccines. Also, ask him or her about other diseases for which COPD may increase your risk such as heart disease, lung cancer, and pneumonia.

Manage the disease and its symptoms

  • Follow an eating plan to get enough calories and nutrients you need, because when having COPD, you may have trouble eating.
  • Stay active by regularly do physical activities. Physical activity can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe and improve your overall wellness. But firstly you should talk with your doctor about what types of activity are safe for you.
  • Put items that you need often in one place to avoid reaching.
  • Find very simple ways to cook, clean, and do other chores. For example, you might want to use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things.
  • Ask for help moving things around in your house so that you won’t need to climb stairs as often.
  • Keep your clothes loose, and wear clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
  • Depending on how severe your disease is, you may want to ask your family and friends for help with daily tasks.

Prepare for emergencies

  • Keep phone numbers handy for your doctor, hospital, and someone who can take you for medical care.
  • Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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