Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an overarching lung disease that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Roughly 3,500 people in the United States suffer from some form of COPD. It is almost always caused by smoking. In fact, approximately 90 percent of people who have COPD have smoked. In rare cases, people are born with a genetic form of the disease.

Emphysema and other COPD-realted conditions

COPD can lead to recurring lung infections including pneumonia. In extreme cases, heart failure can even occur. As a result, scarring of the lungs may happen. Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a wet, mucus-producing cough that lingers well after a cold has gone away. It causes wheezing, tightening of the chest and difficulty breathing. Experts say that people with the condition can produce up to an ounce of yellow mucus a day. Emphysema is associated with damaged air sacs in the lungs. This, in turn, impacts the flow of oxygen throughout the body. It also causes an ongoing cough and difficulty maintaining normal breathing. It is estimated that more than three million Americans have emphysema.  


Since COPD is a lifelong, chronic disease, there is currently no cure. However, treatment options do aim to improve symptoms and overall quality of life. The most common treatment is to quit smoking. From there, patients may receive bronchodilators to help relax and open airways. Steroids, oxygen therapy, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplant surgery are treatment options, as well. Another approach is what’s known as pulmonary rehabilitation. This involves educating patients on breathing techniques, nutrition counseling and more. Antibiotics are also used to treat COPD-related infections, like pneumonia. New research has found that despite popular belief, physical exercise is actually good for COPD. In fact, experts from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation recommend staying active as a way of managing COPD symptoms.