Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties.
- emphysema â damage to the air sacs in the lungs
- chronic bronchitis â long-term inflammation of theÂ airways
COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people do not realise they have it.
The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit your normal activities,Â although treatment can help keepÂ the conditionÂ under control.
SymptomsÂ of COPD
The main symptoms of COPD are:
- increasing breathlessness, particularly when you're active
- a persistent chestyÂ cough with phlegmÂ â some people may dismiss this as just a "smoker's cough"
- frequentÂ chest infections
- persistent wheezing
Without treatment, the symptoms usually get progressively worse.Â There may also be periods whenÂ they get suddenly worse, known as a flare-up or exacerbation.
Find out more about the symptoms of COPD.
WhenÂ to get medical advice
See a GP if you have persistent symptoms of COPD, particularly if you're over 35 and smoke or used to smoke.
Do not ignore the symptoms. If they're caused by COPD, it's best to start treatment as soon as possible, before your lungs become significantly damaged.
Your GP willÂ ask about your symptoms and whether you smoke or have smoked in the past. They can organiseÂ a breathing testÂ to help diagnose COPD and rule out other lung conditions, such as asthma.
Find out more about how COPD is diagnosed.
CausesÂ of COPD
COPD happens when the lungs become inflamed, damaged and narrowed. The main cause is smoking, althoughÂ the condition can sometimes affect people who have never smoked.
The likelihood of developing COPD increases the more you smoke and the longer you'veÂ smoked.
Some cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust. Others are the result of a rare genetic problem which means the lungs are more vulnerable to damage.
Find out more about the causes of COPD.
TreatmentsÂ for COPD
The damage to the lungsÂ caused by COPDÂ is permanent, butÂ treatment can help slow down the progression of the condition.
- stopping smokingÂ â if you have COPD and you smoke, this is the most important thing you can do
- inhalersÂ and medicines â to help make breathing easier
- pulmonary rehabilitationÂ âÂ a specialised programme of exercise and education
- surgery or a lung transplantÂ â although this is only an option for a very small number of people
OutlookÂ for COPD
The outlook for COPD varies from person to person. The condition cannot be cured or reversed, but for many people, treatment can help keep it under control so it does not severely limit their daily activities.
But in some people,Â COPD may continue to get worse despite treatment, eventually having a significant impact on theirÂ quality of life and leading to life-threatening problems.
COPD is largely a preventable condition. You can significantly reduce your chances of developing it if you avoid smoking.
If you already smoke, stopping can help prevent further damage to your lungs before it starts to cause troublesome symptoms.