Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term which refers to a group of lung diseases characterized by obstruction of air flow that interferes with normal breathing. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most well-known conditions that compose COPD and they frequently coexist.

Leading Causes of Death

  • In 2018, 156,045 people died from COPD, making it the fourth overall leading cause of death behind heart disease, cancer, and accidents and unintentional injuries in the United States, or the third disease-related cause of death. 
  • In 2008, COPD surpassed stroke to become the third leading cause of death. This was due to the stroke death rate decreasing at a faster pace than the COPD death rate, and a two-year increase in the COPD death rate. In 2014, accidents and unintentional injuries surpassed COPD as the third leading cause of death.
  • Most leading causes of death are decreasing, but the death rate for accidents and unintentional injuries has been increasing since 2009, driven by the opioid epidemic and subsequent overdose deaths. In 2014, it surpassed COPD to become the third leading cause of death.

Gender Differences

  • More women than men die from COPD (82,158 versus 73,887), but the COPD death rate is higher among men than women (42.9 versus 35.8 per 100,000) because the female population is larger than the male population.

Trends in COPD Mortality by Sex and Race/Ethnicity

              Non-Hispanic    
  Total Male Female White Black Other Hispanic
Year Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate
1999 119,524 43.7 60,795 57.4 58,729 35.7 108,609 47.0 6,706 29.9 1,329 19.8 2,539 21.6
2000 117,522 42.6 58,372 54.5 59,150 35.6 107,065 45.9 6,383 28.0 1,351 19.2 2,397 19.5
2001 118,744 42.3 58,218 53.1 60,526 35.9 108,036 45.9 6,412 27.7 1,415 18.7 2,558 19.5
2002 120,555 42.4 59,133 53.1 61,422 36.0 109,408 46.0 6,647 28.4 1,419 17.6 2,771 20.1
2003 122,283 42.3 59,221 51.9 63,062 36.5 110,952 46.1 6,613 27.6 1,545 18.2 2,875 19.9
2004 118,171 40.3 57,260 49.2 60,911 34.9 107,293 44.2 6,330 25.9 1,503 16.9 2,826 18.5
2005 127,049 42.6 61,120 51.2 65,929 37.2 114,862 46.7 7,134 28.5 1,631 17.2 3,209 19.9
2006 120,970 39.8 57,964 47.5 63,006 35.1 109,313 43.8 6,714 26.2 1,665 16.6 3,053 18.0
2007 124,477 40.2 59,961 47.9 64,516 35.3 112,329 44.4 6,937 26.5 1,744 16.4 3,292 18.4
2008 137,693 43.6 65,936 51.5 71,757 38.6 124,076 48.2 7,787 29.0 1,917 17.1 3,678 19.5
2009 133,965 41.6 63,899 48.6 70,066 37.1 120,593 46.2 7,539 27.1 1,887 16.1 3,724 18.8
2010 134,676 41.1 64,140 47.9 70,536 36.8 120,805 45.8 7,752 27.2 1,982 16.2 3,880 18.6
2011 139,598 41.5 66,259 47.8 73,339 37.4 125,012 46.4 8,095 27.5 2,147 16.2 4,111 18.3
2012 139,958 40.5 66,316 46.3 73,642 36.7 124,957 45.4 8,316 27.2 2,153 15.0 4,200 17.7
2013 145,575 41.1 68,907 46.6 76,668 37.4 129,567 46.2 8,825 27.6 2,354 15.5 4,500 17.8
2014 143,450 39.4 68,064 44.5 75,386 35.9 127,356 44.6 8,771 26.4 2,394 14.6 4,494 16.7
2015 151,426 40.6 71,110 45.1 80,316 37.4 134,109 46.1 9,361 27.3 2,538 14.3 4,854 16.9
2016 151,078 39.6 71,689 44.3 79,389 36.3 133,226 45.0 9,887 27.7 2,593 13.9 4,953 16.3
2017 156,637 39.9 73,621 44.1 83,016 37.0 137,744 45.6 10,264 27.9 2,815 14.1 5,277 16.5
2018 156,045 38.7 73,887 42.9 82,158 35.8 136,614 44.3 10,759 28.2 2,798 13.4 5,424 16.2

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. CDC Wonder On-line Database, compiled from Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2018, 2020.

  • 1) Age-adjusted rates are per 100,000 population and should be used for comparisons as they account for important underlying differences between populations.
  • 2) Deaths are coded by the 10th revision of International Classification of Diseases, codes J40-J44, J47.

Gender Trends

  • The COPD death rate among men decreased 25% from 57.4 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 42.9 in 2018, while the rate among women has remained relatively similar over this period.

Gender and Race/Ethnicity

  • COPD death rates are highest among whites, lowest among Asian/Pacific Islanders, and higher among men than women for every race/ethnicity.

Age

  • Both the number and rate of deaths from COPD are much greater among older age groups.
  • Most (86%) COPD deaths occur among those age 65 years or older.
  • The number of deaths is greatest for those age 75 to 84 years, but the death rate is greatest for those age 85 years or older.

Trends in COPD Mortality by Age

  <25 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75-84 85+
Year Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate
1999 98 0.1 68 0.2 443 1.0 2,503 6.8 10,714 45.1 31,871 173.0 47,710 390.3 26,113 628.6
2000 80 0.1 47 0.1 472 1.0 2,637 7.0 10,199 42.0 30,423 165.4 46,873 379.2 26,789 631.9
2001 79 0.1 57 0.1 514 1.1 2,721 6.9 10,613 42.3 30,117 163.8 46,960 372.9 27,682 641.9
2002 93 0.1 66 0.2 536 1.2 2,867 7.2 10,744 40.2 29,205 158.8 48,429 379.4 28,609 654.8
2003 83 0.1 55 0.1 539 1.2 2,905 7.1 11,515 41.1 29,387 158.8 48,534 376.3 29,263 655.2
2004 82 0.1 58 0.1 511 1.2 2,949 7.1 11,234 38.3 27,886 149.4 46,895 361.0 28,555 628.2
2005 72 0.1 51 0.1 521 1.2 3,382 8.0 12,227 39.9 29,435 155.9 49,624 379.5 31,733 676.1
2006 73 0.1 61 0.2 468 1.1 3,358 7.8 11,883 37.2 27,793 144.7 46,780 357.2 30,550 627.8
2007 82 0.1 62 0.2 476 1.1 3,615 8.2 12,316 37.2 28,252 143.4 47,472 362.7 32,198 638.9
2008 72 0.1 70 0.2 504 1.2 3,895 8.8 13,572 39.7 31,537 153.8 51,153 391.2 36,889 710.0
2009 82 0.1 68 0.2 448 1.1 4,113 9.2 13,690 38.7 30,915 145.6 48,501 372.4 36,146 673.4
2010 82 0.1 62 0.2 406 1.0 3,881 8.6 13,729 37.6 31,403 144.6 47,811 366.1 37,298 679.0
2011 76 0.1 62 0.1 439 1.1 4,130 9.2 14,510 38.1 32,069 142.6 48,900 371.2 39,409 686.9
2012 52 0.0 47 0.1 429 1.1 3,970 9.0 14,622 37.9 33,147 138.2 47,870 360.7 39,818 676.3
2013 75 0.1 63 0.1 410 1.0 4,086 9.3 15,342 39.0 35,162 139.4 48,890 363.6 41,546 687.8
2014 67 0.1 84 0.2 397 1.0 3,825 8.8 15,906 39.7 35,182 133.3 47,317 345.8 40,668 660.0
2015 62 0.1 55 0.1 362 0.9 3,849 8.9 16,834 41.2 37,174 134.9 49,402 354.8 43,684 694.8
2016 70 0.1 67 0.2 369 0.9 3,787 8.9 17,215 41.5 37,956 132.6 48,978 344.1 42,632 668.2
2017 43 0.0 63 0.1 389 1.0 3,522 8.3 18,021 42.9 39,179 132.0 50,686 344.6 44,726 691.4
2018 54 0.1 62 0.1 341 0.8 3,349 8.0 18,197 43.0 38,701 126.9 51,253 332.9 44,084 673.6

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. CDC Wonder On-line Database, compiled from Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2018, 2020.

  • 1) Death rates are per 100,000 population.
  • 2) Deaths are coded by the 10th revision of International Classification of Diseases, codes J45-J46.
  • Among those age 55 and older, death rates are decreasing for every ten-year age group, except for those age 85 and older, for whom the rate has increased at a rate of half a percent per year from 1999 to 2018.
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. HCUPnet, Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, 1993-2016.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, 2018. Analysis by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit using SPSS software.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. CDC WONDER On-line Database, compiled from Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2018, 2020.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, 1999-2018. Analysis by the American Lung Association Research and Program Services Division of using SPSS software.
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Morbidity and Mortality: 2009 Chart Book on Cardiovascular, Lung and Blood Diseases.
  • Tilert T, Dillon C, Paulose-Ram R, et al. Estimating the U.S. Prevalence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Using Pre- and Post-Bronchodilator Spirometry: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007–2010. Respiratory Research. 2013; 14(1):103.
  • United States Census Bureau. Population Estimates, 2009.
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