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Urban-Rural Differences in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Updated April 21, 2023

COPD is a group of respiratory conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which makes breathing difficult for millions of Americans. COPD comprises the majority of deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases, which was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2016.1

Rural populations may have more COPD-related issues due to more people smoking,3 increased exposure to secondhand smoke, and less access to smoking cessation programs compared with people living in more urban areas.4 Rural residents are also more likely to be uninsured and have higher poverty levels, which may lead to less access to early diagnosis and treatment.5

There need to be additional efforts to prevent and reduce risk factors and overcome barriers to early diagnosis and appropriate treatment and management of COPD in rural areas.

Improving access to such health care may improve quality of life, reduce hospital readmissions among COPD patients, and reduce COPD-related deaths. There is a continued need for tobacco cessation programs and policies to prevent COPD and improve pulmonary function among adults with COPD in rural areas in particular. Additionally, there is a need for more widespread treatment, including pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy, and comprehensive chronic disease-self-management programs.

Health care providers and community partners that serve rural residents can help adults with COPD increase access to and participation in these health care interventions.