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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that make it difficult to breathe. The most common lung conditions that make up COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing. COPD is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time. COPD also has no cure. For this reason, COPD can result in major long term disability and can limit peoples' ability to perform routine activities. People who have COPD have a higher risk of getting respiratory infections such as a cold, pneumonia, and the flu.
COPD plays a large role in death and disability in the United States: it is the third leading cause of death and approximately 15 million Americans are diagnosed with COPD (although this number may be higher). COPD cannot be cured and it gets progressively worse over time, resulting in major long-term disability. Treatment is necessary in order to reduce the symptoms and help slow down its progression. This can include medicine, surgery, and oxygen therapy. COPD can also lead to other health issues such as heart disease, lung cancer, and high blood pressure.
To understand COPD, it helps to understand how the lungs work. When you breathe, oxygen enters the bloodstream through small air sacs (called alveoli) at the end of the airways in the lungs. At the same time, waste gasses like carbon dioxide leave the blood and are exhaled. Normally, the air sacs are elastic (or stretchy), and inflate and deflate like balloons during breathing. In COPD, less air flows through the airways due to one or more of the following:

  • The airways and sacs lose some of their elasticity
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed
  • The airways make more mucus than usual, which can clog them
  • The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed

In emphysema, the walls between many of the air sacs are damaged, causing them to lose shape and become floppy. The walls of the air sacs can also be destroyed, leading to fewer, larger sacs that reduce the amount of air that is exchanged.
In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways is constantly inflamed and irritated, causing it to thicken. Large quantities of thick mucus also form in the airways, making it hard to breathe.


Lung function and COPD image

Source: National Health, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013, "What is COPD?"
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke is the most important risk factor in developing COPD. The best way to prevent COPD is to not smoke or to stop smoking if you already do so.
  • Second-hand smoke: Second-hand smoke is the smoke that comes from burning and smoking tobacco products. Second-hand smoke can also increase the risk of COPD as well.
  • Asthma: People with asthma, or who have had asthma, may have an increased risk of developing COPD.
  • Genetics: Some people may have a rare genetic mutation called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, which may cause COPD.
  • Workplace exposure: People who work in certain settings may be exposure more frequently to chemicals, dust, or other irritants that can harm the lungs.
There are many things you can do to prevent COPD:
  • The best way to prevent COPD is to not smoke. Even if you have already been diagnosed with COPD, quitting smoking can improve symptoms and possibly avoid worse complications.
  • Use personal protective gear at work to limit your exposure to lung irritants and chemicals

If COPD can be caught and diagnosed early, treatment can begin earlier before progression worsens.
The Utah EPHTN receives hospital admission and emergency department visit data from the Office of Health Care Statistics in the Utah Department of Health.

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The information provided above is from the Utah Department of Health's Center for Health Data IBIS-PH web site (http://epht.health.utah.gov). The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Fri, 18 August 2017 10:14:08 from Utah Department of Health, Center for Health Data, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site: http://epht.health.utah.gov ".

Content updated: Thu, 5 Jan 2017 10:18:19 MST