What Is the Main Cause of COPD?

Reviewed on 9/23/2021

The main cause of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in the U.S. is smoking tobacco, which accounts for up to 90% percent of all COPD cases. Other causes of and risk factors for COPD include secondhand smoke, air pollutants in the home and workplace, a history of respiratory infections, genetic factors, and poor indoor air quality.
The main cause of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in the U.S. is smoking tobacco, which accounts for up to 90% percent of all COPD cases. Other causes of and risk factors for COPD include secondhand smoke, air pollutants in the home and workplace, a history of respiratory infections, genetic factors, and poor indoor air quality.

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) refers to a group of chronic, progressive lung diseases that block airflow and cause breathing problems. Types of COPD include: 

The main cause of COPD in the U.S. is smoking tobacco. Up to 90% percent of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. The toxins in cigarette smoke weaken the lungs’ defense against infections, narrow air passages, cause swelling in airways, and destroy air sacs, all of which can contribute to developing COPD.

Other causes of and risk factors for COPD include: 

  • Inhaling secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace
  • A history of respiratory infections 
  • Genetic factors, such as alpha-1 deficiency
  • Poor indoor air quality (in the developing world)

What Are Symptoms of COPD?

Symptoms of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) include:

  • Frequent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty inhaling deeply
  • Excess phlegm, mucus, or sputum production
  • Spitting up phlegm (mucus) 

When symptoms of COPD worsen, it’s called an exacerbation or flare-up. Signs of an oncoming COPD exacerbation, which can often occur quickly and suddenly, include: 

  • Coughing more than usual 
  • More shortness of breath than usual
  • Being more tired or fatigued than usual 
  • Wheezing more than usual
  • Cold symptoms: fever, sore throat, or other cold symptoms 
  • Changes in mucus thickness, color, or amount
  • Feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Swollen legs or ankles
  • Needing to sleep sitting up instead of lying down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling a need for increased oxygen in patients who are on oxygen
    • Oxygen levels will be lower than normal if measured

Call 911 right away or go to a hospital’s emergency department (do not drive yourself) immediately if you experience serious warning signs of a COPD exacerbation such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Feeling of suffocating 
  • Blue lips or fingers
  • Confusion

 

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What Is the Treatment for COPD?

Treatment for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is aimed at relieving symptoms, decreasing the frequency and severity of exacerbations, and increasing exercise tolerance. 

Treatment for COPD may include:

  • Quitting smoking
    • This is the most important part of COPD treatment for people who smoke because it’s the most common cause of COPD
  • Avoiding secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Avoiding air pollutants at home and at work
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
    • A type of treatment program that teaches strategies to improve quality of life 
  • Medications to treat symptoms 
    • Bronchodilators including anticholinergics and beta2-agonists 
    • Anti-inflammatories, such as corticosteroids 
    • Antibiotics 
    • Influenza (flu) and pneumococcal vaccinations to prevent lung infections
  • Supplemental oxygen

Patients who have COPD should work with their doctors to have a plan for when exacerbations occur. Treating flare-ups quickly can reduce the chances of serious illness and additional lung damage. 

Treatment for COPD exacerbations may include: 

  • Quick-relief inhaler
  • Nebulizer 
  • Steroids 
  • Antibiotics

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Reviewed on 9/23/2021
References
https://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html

https://www.lung.ca/lung-health/lung-disease/copd/flare-ups

https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/