What Is COPD | American Lung Association

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What Is COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that over time makes it hard to breathe.

Key Points

  1. COPD is chronic. In other words, you live with it every day.
  2. It can cause serious long-term disability and early death.
  3. There is no cure for COPD, but it is often preventable and treatable.
  4. COPD is sometimes referred to as chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

With COPD, the airways in your lungs become inflamed and thicken, and the tissue where oxygen is exchanged is destroyed. The flow of air in and out of your lungs decreases. When that happens, less oxygen gets into your body tissues, and it becomes harder to get rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide. As the disease gets worse, shortness of breath makes it harder to remain active.

Sometimes referred to as either chronic bronchitis or emphysema, most people will have symptoms of both conditions, so health professionals prefer to call the disease COPD. However, some doctors think that chronic bronchitis may be present even though a person does not have the airway obstruction characteristic of COPD. Your doctor can explain your condition and the best way to treat it.

It is important to remember that in many cases, COPD can be prevented and can be treated.

Learn more about how COPD affects your body.


    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 1, 2016.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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