COPD, which stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a term used for a number of conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is caused by damaged airways in the lungs, causing them to become narrower and making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. The word 'chronic' means that the problem is long term.
Bronchitis means 'inflammation of the bronchi'. Bronchi are the tubes or airways which carry oxygen from the air through the lungs. This inflammation increases mucus production in the airways, producing phlegm which makes you cough. Chronic refers to the condition being long term.
Emphysema is where the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs lose their elasticity. This reduces the support of the airways, causing them to narrow. It also means the lungs are not as good at getting oxygen into the body.
COPD is responsible for over 30,000 deaths a year in England and Wales, the sixth most common cause of death. It is estimated that by 2020, COPD will be the third biggest killer in the world.
The symptoms of COPD vary depending on how bad it is and how people have adapted to the condition. If you have mild COPD, you may only experience symptoms, such as a cough, phlegm and shortness of breath, in winter or after a cold. In more severe cases, you may be short of breath every day. If you have more severe COPD, breathlessness may make doing normal activities more difficult.
COPD can lead to feelings of anxiety because of breathlessness and you may reduce your activities to avoid becoming breathless. The problem with this is that by reducing activities you become less fit and therefore get breathless even sooner when you try to do any activity. We recommend that people with COPD adapt their lifestyles to reduce breathlessness, but try to keep as active as possible. See the diet and exercise section for more information about how you can keep active with COPD.