What is COPD?

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a chronic inflammatory lung disease which triggers obstructed airflow from the lungs. Some of the most common symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include cough, breathing difficulty, wheezing and mucus production. The culprit for this disease is usually a long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. Additionally, people with COPD are susceptible to developing lung cancer, heart disease, and other serious health issues.

There are two conditions which contribute to COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema happens when the alveoli at the end of the smallest air passages of the lungs are destroyed due to damaging exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritating gases and particulate matter. On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the alveoli of the lungs. It's characterized by daily cough and mucus production. Fortunately, COPD can be treated with proper management.

COPD Symptoms

The symptoms of this chronic inflammatory lung disease aren’t visible until significant lung damage has occurred. They usually become worse with time, especially if the person continues being exposed to smoke. If a person has chronic bronchitis, they might experience a daily cough and mucus production at least three months a year for two consecutive years.

Furthermore, there are other COPD symptoms worth mentioning, such as:

  • Wheezing
  • Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • A chronic cough
  • Lack of energy
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

Likewise, people who have COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse and stay so for at least several days.

COPD Causes

When it comes to the causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the main culprits are tobacco smoke and being exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes. It has been estimated that only about 20 to 30 percent of chronic smokers are likely to develop COPD, while other smokers might develop reduced lung function

The lungs get air through two large tubes, called bronchi, and the air goes first down the windpipe. Inside the lungs, the tubes divide many times into many smaller tubes that end in clusters of tiny air sacs. These air sacs have very thin walls full of tiny blood vessels, which are known as capillaries. Hence, the oxygen you in hale passes into these blood vessels and enters your blood stream, while carbon dioxide is exhaled. The lungs rely on the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs to force air out of your body. However, when COPD occurs, they lose their elasticity, which leaves some air trapped in your lungs when you exhale.

Furthermore, being exposed to cigarette smoke and other irritants, such as workplace exposure to dusk and fumes, pipe smoke, and air pollution can also attribute to developing COPD. Many people will develop his condition due to genetic susceptibility to the disease. It’s also important to note that a small number of people who have this condition can also develop a genetic disorder that cause slow levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. The deficiency of this protein can have an impact on the lungs and the liver.

Risk factors for COPD

Some of the most common risk factors for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include exposure to tobacco smoke, especially long-term cigarette and marijuana smoking. Additionally, being a person with asthma who smokes significantly increases the risk for the condition. Moreover, being exposed to chemical fumes, vapors and dust in the workplace or fumes from burning fuel can additionally increase the risk for this condition.

Likewise, it’s important to note that COPD might be the culprit for many health complications, such as heart problems, respiratory infections, lung cancer, depression, and high blood pressure in the lung arteries.


Fortunately, it’s quite easy to prevent COPD. As the majority of cases related to COPD are a direct result of cigarette smoking, the best way to prevent it is to stop smoking immediately. Quitting smoking is the best chance for preventing damage to your lungs. However, if COPD is a result of occupational exposure to chemical fumes, you should talk to your supervisor on how to protect yourself. You might also need to use respiratory protective equipment.