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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that cause reduced airflow in the lungs, making 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 individual's ability to perform routine activities. People who have COPD have a higher risk of getting respiratory infections such as colds, pneumonia, and the flu.
COPD plays a large role in death and disability in the United States; in 2014, it was the third leading cause of death. Approximately 15.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD. 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 have lost 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?"
  • Smokers: Tobacco smoke is the greatest risk factor in developing COPD. The best way to prevent COPD is to not smoke or to stop smoking if you already do so.
  • People exposed to secondhand smoke: Secondhand smoke is smoke that comes from someone else's burning and smoking of tobacco products. Second-hand smoke can also increase the risk of COPD as well.
  • People with asthma: People with asthma, or who have had asthma, may have an increased risk of developing COPD.
  • People with alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency: Some people may have a rare genetic mutation called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, which may cause COPD.
  • People exposed in the workplace: People who work in certain settings may be exposed more frequently to chemicals, dust, and 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 quit smoking. Even if you have already been diagnosed with COPD, quitting smoking can improve symptoms and possibly avoid worse complications.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Avoid other air pollutants and irritants: Use personal protective gear at work to limit your exposure to lung irritants and chemicals.
  • Prevent and treat lung infections: Certain vaccines, like the flu vaccine and pneumonia immunizations, are important in preventing chronic lung infections. Current respiratory infections should be treated with antibiotics if possible.

If COPD can be caught and diagnosed early, treatment can begin before progression worsens.

Indicator Reports (includes contextual information)

Additional Data Views

As of October 1, 2015, the U.S. is currently using the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) to code hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Prior to the change, COPD hospitalizations and emergency department vists were defined as any ICD-9 primary diganosis code. Comparing data using ICD-9 against data using ICD-10 may not be appropriate; therefore, the following data views are separated by ICD code.

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 ( The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Sat, 19 October 2019 6:39:41 from Utah Department of Health, Center for Health Data, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site: ".

Content updated: Thu, 20 Jun 2019 13:03:29 MDT