Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease



COPD is caused by damage to the lungs from:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Inhaling toxins or other irritants like wood smoke or dust and fumes at work
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin gene deficiency (rare)

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of COPD are:

  • Smoking cigarettes or other forms of tobacco
  • Long-term exposure to secondhand or passive smoke (in any form)
  • Exposure to pollutants
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency



Early problems are:

  • Coughing
  • Coughing up mucus from deep in the lungs
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath with activity

As the disease gets worse, problems may be:

  • Increased shortness of breath
  • A choking feeling when lying flat
  • Feeling very tired
  • Problems with focus
  • Weight loss
  • Breathing through pursed lips
  • Leaning forward to breathe better
  • Flareups of these symptoms


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on a person's breathing. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.

Lung function tests will be done to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done with spirometry to test the force of a person's breath.



There is no cure for COPD. It will get worse over time. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and improve quality of life. A plan will be made with the care team.

A pulmonary rehabilitation program can be helpful. It offers education and tips to stay healthy. Other treatments are:

Smoking Cessation

Smoking will worsen COPD. There are a number of tools to help quit smoking, such as:

  • Behavior change programs
  • Medicine
  • Nicotine replacement therapy, such as gum, patches, or sprays


Medicine may be given to:

  • Relax and open the airways
  • Decrease swelling and mucus
  • Treat flare ups

COPD increases the risk of problems from flu and pneumonia. Pneumonia and the flu vaccines are both advised for people with COPD.


COPD makes it hard for oxygen to pass through the lungs and into the body. Oxygen therapy can increase the amount of oxygen that gets into the lungs and into the body. It can also ease breathing and improve energy.

Weight Management

Being overweight can make it harder to breathe. A weight loss plan may be needed.

Some find it hard to eat well with COPD. It can lead to unhealthy weight loss. Nutrition support may help.

Surgery or Procedures

Some people may need procedures or surgery to help the lungs work better. Options are:

  • Bronchoscopic lung reduction—a procedure to block off parts of the lung
  • Lung volume reduction surgery—removing a section of the lung to let other parts of it expand
  • Lung transplant—replaces a damaged lung with a donor lung


The risk of COPD can be lowered by:

  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding places where people smoke
  • Avoiding air pollution and other irritants

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.