HomePatientsLung Disease Week at the ATS2012COPD ▶ General Information About COPD
General Information About COPD

COPD Week at the ATS

COPD is currently the third leading cause of death worldwide and the only leading cause of death for which mortality is rising. Up to 60-85% of people with COPD (mostly mild/moderate severity) are undiagnosed.

People with COPD have a chronic inflammation in the airways (bronchi) of their lungs (chronic bronchitis) or the air sacs (alveoli) in their lungs are damaged (emphysema). They often have both at the same time.  If bronchi are chronically inflamed, they become swollen and less air can pass through them. A persistent cough and mucous congestion are often signs of an inflammation. If the small air sacs in the lungs become damaged, the blood flowing through the lungs can no longer absorb as much oxygen or freely get rid of carbon dioxide, the waste product of breathing.  These two broad processes coexist and overlap in varying degrees in virtually everyone with COPD. The reasons for this variability and its clinical importance are poorly understood.

COPD is diagnosed by a breathing test called a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT).  Changes can also sometimes be seen on chest x-rays or chest CAT scan.  COPD is chronic and progressive; however, its progression can differ markedly between individuals. Most COPD patients who stop smoking will experience a slowing in the decline of lung function.

Many (not all) patients with COPD experience days-long episodes of increased dyspnea, cough, and sputum production, called COPD exacerbations. Most COPD exacerbations occur at home, resulting in increased use of bronchodilators, impaired function and enjoyment of life; more severe COPD exacerbations require systemic steroids, antibiotics, and sometimes hospitalization.

Treatment for COPD includes the use of inhaled bronchodilators (to open up airways), inhaled corticosteroids (to decrease inflammation), supplemental oxygen in patients with low blood levels, and pulmonary rehabilitation which is a program of exercise and education to improve exercise capacity, quality of life, and help patients manage their disease more effectively.

Linda Nici, MD 
Providence VA Medical Center
Chair, ATS Council of Chapter Representatives

Four Facts About COPD
  1. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., twelve years earlier than predicted.

  2. Every four minutes an individual dies of COPD.

  3. COPD kills more women than men each year. In 2006, COPD killed more American women than breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

  4. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that 12 million adults have COPD and another 12 million are undiagnosed or developing COPD. COPD cost the U.S. government approximately $42.6 billion in both direct and indirect expenses in 2007. A majority of those expenses are due to hospitalizations, which can be prevented with better diagnosis and management practices.

 (Source: )