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Chronic lower respiratory disease, mainly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is the fourth leading cause of death in the US. While tobacco smoke is the primary cause, 1 in 4 people with COPD have never smoked. Air pollutants at home (secondhand smoke), at work (fumes), and genetics can also cause COPD. Symptoms include chronic or smoker’s cough, chronic phlegm production, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Early detection and treatment may change its course. A breathing test can measure lung function and detect COPD in those at risk. Treatment requires a careful and thorough doctor’s evaluation, avoiding tobacco smoke, and removing air pollutants from the home and at work. Symptoms may be treated with medication. A doctor may also consider pulmonary rehabilitation, a personalized treatment program that teaches you how to manage your COPD symptoms to improve quality of life.


Key Facts

  • COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.
  • COPD affects more than 15 million Americans.
  • More than 140,000 Americans die of COPD each year – that is 1 death every 4 minutes!
  • The most important aspect of treatment for COPD is avoiding tobacco smoke and other air pollutants.


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Avoid Tobacco Smoke

Prevention of COPD begins with reducing and eliminating smoking initiation among teenagers and young adults and encouraging tobacco cessation among current smokers.

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Get Diagnosed

Individuals with a history of smoking or a family history of COPD and who also have respiratory symptoms should ask their physician for a spirometry test to determine if they have COPD.

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Prevention Tips

In certain situations, COPD may be preventable. There are several opportunities for prevention. Some of the most important are:

  • If you are a smoker, quit. Approximately 75% of COPD deaths are attributed to cigarette smoking.
  • Avoid exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace.
  • Get vaccinated during flu season if you have COPD to reduce the risk of flare-ups.

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Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019