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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties.

It includes:

  • emphysema damage to the air sacs in the lungs
  • chronic bronchitis long-term inflammation of theairways

COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people don't realise they have it.

The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit your normal activities, although treatment can help keepthe condition under control.

Symptoms of COPD

The main symptoms of COPD are:

  • increasing shortness of breath , particularly when you're active
  • a persistent chesty cough with phlegm some people may dismiss this as just a "smoker's cough"
  • frequent chest infections
  • persistent wheezing

Without treatment, the symptoms usually get slowly worse.There may also be periods whenthey get suddenly worse, known as a flare-up or exacerbation.

If they're caused by COPD, it's best to start treatment as soon as possible, before your lungs become significantly damaged.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and whether you smoke or have smoked in the past. They can organise a breathing test to help diagnose COPD and rule out other lung conditions, such as asthma.

The main cause is smoking, although the condition can sometimes affect people who have never smoked.

The likelihood of developing COPD increases the more you smoke and the longer you've smoked.

Some cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust, or occur as a result of a rare genetic problem that means the lungs are more vulnerable to damage.

The condition can't be cured or reversed, but for many people treatment can help keep it under control so it doesn't severely limit their daily activities.

But in some peopleCOPD may continue to get worse despite treatment, eventually having a significant impact on theirquality of life and leading to life-threatening problems.

Preventing COPD

COPD is largely a preventable condition. You can significantly reduce your chances of developing it if you avoid smoking.

If you already smoke, stopping can help prevent further damage to your lungs before it starts to cause troublesome symptoms.

If you think you need help to stop smoking, you can contact Smokefree groups for free advice and support. You may also want to talk to your GP about the stop smoking medications available.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 12 Sep 2016