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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It is the fourth leading cause of death and causes serious, long-term disability. COPD includes two main illnesses:

  • Emphysema (em-fuh-ZEE-muh) – With emphysema, the lung tissues weaken and the walls between the air sacs are damaged, making it hard for the body to get the oxygen it needs.
  • Chronic bronchitis (brong-KEYE-tuhss) – Chronic bronchitis is the swelling of the lungs' airways. The swollen airways become narrow and partly clogged with mucus that cannot be cleared.

Cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD. And many people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both illnesses also are strongly associated with lung cancer.

COPD develops over time and has no cure. In its earliest stages, people with COPD may not even know they have it. But over time, shortness of breath and other symptoms of COPD can get in the way of even the most basic tasks, such as doing light housework, taking a walk, or even bathing and dressing. Many people with COPD must rely on supplemental oxygen to live a more normal life. Portable units allow people with COPD who need oxygen to take it with them away from the house.

If you have COPD, you can stop or slow the damage to your lungs by quitting smoking. Treatment also can slow down the disease and improve quality of life.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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