Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD? Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive and debilitating inflammatory lung disease characterized by chronic airflow obstruction in the lungs, leading to difficulty breathing.

COPD is estimated to affect approximately 10% of the global population with an increasing prevalence. It is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

There are three main overlapping components to COPD, although the presentation may differ on an individual basis:

  • Emphysema, seen as structural changes, including enlarged airways and destruction of the alveoli. 
  • Chronic bronchitis involving a chronic productive cough.
  • Chronic obstructive asthma in which the airway limitation is not entirely reversible with bronchodilator therapy.


What Causes COPD?

The pathophysiology of COPD is multifactorial and is influenced by behavioral, environmental, and genetic factors that result in chronic irritation and inflammatory damage to the airways and lung parenchyma. 

Common risk factors of COPD include:

  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD.
  • Occupational exposure: Exposure to dust, silica, chemicals, and fumes at work can also increase the risk of developing COPD.
  • Air pollution: Long-term exposure to air pollution, especially in urban areas, is associated with an increased risk of COPD.
  • Genetics: Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a rare genetic condition that can increase the risk of developing COPD.
  • Other factors: History of childhood pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV, premature birth, and early-life asthma or poorly controlled asthma in adulthood.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

  • Persistent cough, often with sputum production
  • Shortness of breath, especially on exertion
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Source: Global Strategy For Prevention, Diagnosis And Management Of COPD: 2023 report. (2023). In Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from