What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Causes, Symptoms

Topics: Sleep Apnea, Respiratory Care - COPD

COPD is a group of progressive long‐term lung diseases where the airway is thickened and inflamed.¹ Over time, COPD makes it more difficult to breathe because the airways are partly blocked, restricting the flow of air in to and out of the lungs.

When this happens, less oxygen (O2) reaches the blood, and it becomes harder to get rid of the waste gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

COPD is made up of 2 chronic conditions:

  1. Chronic bronchitis is a lasting inflammation of the airways that causes a persistent cough with mucus secretion.
  2. Emphysema causes irreversible damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in lung tissue, and results in shortness of breath

Causes of COPD

The main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking, with the prevalence of COPD appreciably higher for individuals who are or have been regular smokers compared to non-smokers.1

Other risk factors include exposure to air pollution and occupational exposure to dust and chemicals.2

How common is COPD?

COPD is more common than you might realise. According to the latest figures, 65 million peoplearound the world are living with moderate to severe COPD.3

In Asia, COPD prevalence is around 6%, with country-specific rates sitting at 3.5–6.7%.4

In Europe, COPD prevalence is 4–10% of the adult population. On a country by country basis, the estimates are:

  • 3 million in the UK
  • 3.5 million in France
  • 2.7 million in Germany
  • 2.6 million in Italy
  • 1.5 million in Spain.5

Although COPD is often seen as a smoker’s disease, multiple studies have indicated that 1 in 5 patients diagnosed with COPD have never smoked.6,7

Symptoms of COPD

COPD usually takes years to develop. The earliest signs may be shortness of breath when climbing stairs or working around the house. Because breathing is such hard work, you may feel constantly tired. You may also have a regular cough, and build-up of mucus

Air pollution, allergies, colds and influenza may cause COPD flare-ups, otherwise known as acute exacerbations.7 If you’re a smoker, you may also get frequent lung infections that can lead to pneumonia.

A social problem

People with COPD often require hospital admissions for treatment. Each hospitalisation not only places a tremendous burden on healthcare resources, but also on patients and their families.

With the goal of fostering healthier individuals and communities, hospitals, insurance providers, care providers and patients are all looking for better solutions for the long-term care and management of COPD.

An economic problem

As the third leading cause of death worldwide, COPD is estimated to claim over 3 million lives globally every year. And as the population ages, deaths from COPD are projected to increase by more than 30% over the next decade.3

The growing number of COPD patients creates heavy economic burdens. The annual healthcare cost so far is already:

€38.6 billion in Europe1

$USD49.9 billion in the United States1

$929 million in Australia8

Along with smoking cessation, drug therapy, rehabilitation and good nutrition, adding non-invasive ventilation to your treatment may help you stay out of hospital,9 and enjoy an improved quality of life.10

See the bigger COPD picture


Related topics



Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). “Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of COPD, 2015.” Goldcopd.com. http://www.goldcopd.org/uploads/users/files/GOLD_Report_2015_Sept2.pdf (accessed November 9, 2015) 


02Mannino DM and Buist AS. Global burden of COPD: risk factors, prevalence, and future trends. The Lancet 2007:370:765‐773. 


World Health Organization. “Chronic respiratory diseases: Burden of COPD” Who.int. http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/en/ (accessed November 9, 2015)


 04Halbert RJ et al. Global burden of COPD: systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Respir J. 2006;28(3):523-32.


European COPD Coalition. “About COPD: Prevalence in EU.” Copdcoalition.eu. http://www.copdcoalition.eu/about-copd/prevalence (accessed November 9, 2015)


 06Lamprecht B et al. COPD in Never Smokers. Chest 2011;139(4):752–763.


Eisner MD et al. An official American Thoracic Society public policy statement: Novel risk factors and the global burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010;182(5):693-718. 


08Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. “COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: About COPD” Aihw.gov.au. http://www.aihw.gov.au/copd/ (accessed November 9, 2015) 


Galli JA et al. Home non-invasive ventilation use following acute hypercapnic respiratory failure in COPD. Respir Med. 2014;108(5):722-8.


 10Koehnlein T et al. Non-invasive positive pressure ventilation for the treatment of severe stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – A prospective, multicentre, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Lancet Respir Med. 2014;2:698-705. 

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