Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties.

It includes:

  • emphysema – damage to the air sacs in the lungs
  • chronic bronchitis – long-term inflammation of the airways

COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people don't realise they have it. The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit your normal activities, although treatment can help keep the condition under control.

The main symptoms of COPD are:

  • Increasing breathlessness, particularly when you're active
  • A persistent chesty cough with phlegm – some people may dismiss this as just a "smoker's cough"
  • Frequent chest infections
  • Persistent wheezing

The symptoms will usually get gradually worse over time and make daily activities increasingly difficult, although treatment can help slow the progression. Without treatment, the symptoms usually get slowly worse. There may also be periods when they get suddenly worse, known as a flare-up or exacerbation. Most people with COPD don't have any noticeable symptoms until they reach their late 40s or 50s.

Less common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Swollen ankles from a build-up of fluid (oedema)
  • Chest pain and coughing up blood – although these are usually signs of another condition, such as a chest infection or possibly lung cancer

These additional symptoms only tend to occur when COPD reaches a more advanced stage.

There are several conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as asthma, bronchiectasis, anaemia and heart failure. A simple breathing test can help determine if you have COPD. While there's currently no cure for COPD, the sooner treatment begins, the less chance there is of severe lung damage.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occurs when the lungs and airways become damaged and inflamed.

It's usually associated with long-term exposure to harmful substances such as cigarette smoke. Things that can increase your risk of developing COPD are outlined below:

- Smoking is the main cause of COPD and is thought to be responsible for around 9 in every 10 cases. The harmful chemicals in smoke can damage the lining of the lungs and airways. Stopping smoking can help stop COPD getting worse, some research has also suggested that being exposed to other people's smoke (passive smoking) may increase your risk of COPD.

- Exposure to certain types of dust and chemicals at work may damage the lungs and increase your risk of COPD. Substances that have been linked to COPD include:

  • Cadmium dust and fumes
  • Grain and flour dust
  • Silica dust
  • Welding fumes
  • Isocyanates
  • Coal dust

The risk of COPD is even higher if you breathe in dust or fumes in the workplace and you smoke.

- Exposure to air pollution over a long period can affect how well the lungs work and some research has suggested it could increase your risk of COPD. But at the moment the link between air pollution and COPD isn't conclusive and research is continuing.

- You're more likely to develop COPD if you smoke and have a close relative with the condition, suggesting some people's genes may make them more vulnerable to the condition. Around 1…


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