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What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a progressive lung condition, the name is given to a group of conditions affecting the lungs and airways; bronchitis and emphysema. COPD affects 1.2 million people in the UK, and millions more have COPD but don’t even know it. 

What causes COPD?

The primary cause of COPD is smoking. Whether you’re a smoker or ex-smoker, you’re still at risk of developing COPD because of the long-term damage to the lungs. Another cause of COPD is working in an environment where you’re exposed to harmful dust, fumes and chemicals. In very rare cases, COPD can develop from having a genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The symptoms of COPD worsen as the condition progresses, the main symptoms are:

  • Having a tenacious cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing (particularly in cold weather)
  • Struggling to take a breath
  • Increase of mucus and phlegm

A number of sufferers may experience severe symptoms, a flare-up which is known as an ‘exacerbation’ which can be triggered at random or by infections.

How is it diagnosed? 

COPD can be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to asthma. A healthcare professional will ask if the cough is persistent and whether you always find it difficult to breathe or just occasionally. The reason for these questions is if its asthma, your airways occasional become irritated if trigged, whereas if you have COPD, the inflammation would be permanent. A doctor may also ask if you smoke or have smoked in the past and what you do for work.

Another way COPD can be diagnosed is through a test called spirometry, this is a test that measures the total amount of air you can breathe out (lung capacity) and also how quickly you can empty your lungs.


Unfortunately, COPD is incurable because the damage to your lungs from harmful fumes can’t be reversed. However, there are medical and self-help treatments available to help manage symptoms.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR)

PR is a type of programme designed for people who have COPD, it involves exercise and gives information to help you understand the condition. The group course lasts roughly 6-8 weeks and half a session involves exercise.

Stop smoking

If you're still smoking after being diagnosed with COPD, stopping is the best thing you can do. Your GP will give you plenty of advice to help you stop and may offer nicotine replacement therapy or prescribe medication.

Get the flu jab

If you have COPD, you will qualify for a free flu jab on the NHS. The vaccine reduces your risk of developing serious illnesses caused by the flu if it gets worse, for example, pneumonia. For more information about the flu vaccine, check out our blog to findout more


There is medicine available for COPD, this is called bronchodilator, which typically comes in the form of an inhaler to relieve wheezing and breathlessness.

World COPD Day

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with COPD, or know someone who has been, there is plenty of help out there! World COPD day is recognised every year, on the third Wednesday of November.

For more information, visit the COPD Foundation's website:

Want to get involved on World COPD Day? Visit the British Lung Foundation for how to raise awareness or donate towards COPD research:

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