Learn COPD Basics

Whether you're dealing with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) firsthand or care about someone who is, the goal of is to help you find answers and resources you may need to move forward together with your healthcare provider to help you manage your COPD.

COPD by the Numbers


million americans have been
diagnosed with copd

another estimated 12 million may
have copd that hasn't yet been diagnosed

What is COPD?

When you breathe, air travels through tubes in your lungs—called airways—to millions of tiny air sacs. In a healthy lung, the airways are open and the air sacs fill up with air. Then the air goes quickly out. Read More

COPD makes it hard to get air through the airways and into and out of the air sacs.

COPD includes two lung problems:

  • "Chronic bronchitis" is increased cough and mucus production caused by inflammation of the airways. Bronchitis is considered chronic (or long-term) if a person coughs and produces excess mucus most days during three months in a year, for two years in a row.
  • "Emphysema" is associated with damage of the air sacs and/or collapse of the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs. Close

How COPD affects the Lungs

What causes COPD?

Cigarette Smoking Causes About


Of All
Copd Cases

Occupational Exposure To Certain Industrial Pollutants Is Responsible For Approximately 20%

The largest cause of COPD is a history of smoking cigarettes. Habitual smoking can inflame the linings of the airways in the lungs and can make the airways lose their elastic quality. Read More Other external factors that put you at risk of developing COPD are exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, and occupational dust or chemicals. Heredity can also play a role. Scientists have discovered what's known as an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, which is the source of a small proportion of cases of COPD. Researchers also suspect that other genetic factors may make certain smokers predisposed to the disease.  Close

Signs & Symptoms of COPD

Common signs and symptoms of COPD include coughing that may produce mucus, shortness of breath, and fatigue. As the disease progresses, these COPD symptoms may become more problematic. Read More

COPD is a progressive disease, meaning it typically gets worse over time. That's why it's extremely important to talk to your healthcare provider right away if you're experiencing any symptoms common to COPD. The sooner you're diagnosed, the better you and your healthcare provider can start to manage it. Making some adjustments in your lifestyle is always a good place to start.  Close

Airflow Levels in COPD

Your healthcare team may do a spirometry test to assess your level of airflow limitation. Read More This level, your current COPD symptoms, and any other health conditions you're living with help your healthcare provider determine the proper COPD management plan for you. Your airflow output limitation level may range from mild to very severe. If you're unsure of your airflow limitation level, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider about a spirometry test.  Close