How Does COPD Affect your Body | American Lung Association

Location Select your location

How Does COPD Affect your Body

COPD is a progressive lung disease, which means it gets worse over time.

Having COPD makes it hard to breathe because less air flows in and out of the airways in your lungs. This happens when:

  • Airways become thick and inflamed.
  • Airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality.
  • Lung tissue is destroyed.
  • Too much mucus is made and blocks (obstructs) airways.

When you're getting less air, less oxygen gets into body tissues and it gets harder to get rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide. This results in shortness of breath during everyday activities. People with COPD can experience fatigue, chronic cough and frequent respiratory infections as well (see more about symptoms of COPD). People with COPD are also at risk for other health problems including heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer.

Because it's hard to breathe, staying active with COPD can be difficult—especially as the disease progresses. Having COPD can limit things such as:

  • Ability to work
  • Normal physical exertion
  • Household chores
  • Social activities
  • Sleeping
  • Family activities

COPD doesn't just have a physical impact—living with chronic disease also can affect mental health. If you have COPD, it's not uncommon to feel fear, anxiety, depression or stress. Getting emotional support is just as important as protecting your lungs and staying active.


    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 1, 2016.

    Ask An Expert

    Questions about your lung health? Need help finding healthcare? Call 1-800-LUNGUSA.

    Get help
    We need your generous support

    Make a difference by delivering research, education and advocacy to those impacted by lung disease.

    What is LUNG FORCE?

    LUNG FORCE unites women and their loved ones across the country to stand together in the fight against lung cancer.

    Get involved
    Join the fight for healthy lungs and healthy air.
    Donate Now.