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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Basics


COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. Progressive means the disease will get worse over time.  COPD is the name for a group of diseases that restrict air flow and cause trouble breathing. COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic lower respiratory disease, including COPD, is the third leading cause of death in the United States.1 Fifteen million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD.2 Two decades ago, more than 50% of adults with poor pulmonary function were not aware that they had COPD, therefore millions more may have it.3

In the United States, tobacco smoke is a key factor in the development and progression of COPD, although exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors, and respiratory infections also play a role. A rare genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency can also cause the disease.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the following groups were more likely to report COPD in 2013:

  • People aged 65–74 years and ≥ 75 years.
  • American Indian/Alaska Natives and multiracial non-Hispanics.
  • Women.
  • Individuals who were unemployed, retired, or unable to work.
  • Individuals with less than a high school education.
  • Individuals who were divorced, widowed, or separated.
  • Current or former smokers.
  • People with a history of asthma.