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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. More than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and it is now the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Common signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • difficulty breathing, especially with exertion
  • frequent cough, with or without mucus production
  • chest tightness or heaviness
  • wheezing
  • fatigue

COPD is confirmed through a simple, non-invasive breathing test called spirometry, a type of pulmonary function test. This test can determine the severity of obstruction in the lungs and help guide treatment and monitor progression.

Although there is currently no cure for COPD, it is treatable with the use of inhaled medications, lifestyle modifications, flu and pneumonia vaccines, pulmonary rehabilitation and sometimes surgical interventions. It is important to establish care with a pulmonologist, or lung doctor, to develop a treatment plan.

COPD symptoms and treatments

Risk Factors

Millions of people experience the symptoms of COPD, but still go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Speak with a physician if you have the following risk factors:

  • current or former smoker
  • long-term exposure to second hand smoke, air pollutants or irritants
  • family history of COPD, emphysema or chronic bronchitis
  • become short of breath easily
  • experience a constant, persistent cough
  • frequent lung infections

How to manage COPD at home