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About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a lung disease that makes it very hard to breathe. It is caused by damage to the lungs over time, usually from smoking.
As reported by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, it is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. More than 12 million people are diagnosed with the disease, and another 12 million may have COPD, but not know it.
COPD can be a mix of:
- Emphysema—When you have emphysema, the air sacs in your lungs are damaged; this makes it difficult for air to get in and out of your lungs and causes shortness of breath.
- Chronic Bronchitis—When you have bronchitis, the airways that carry air into your lungs are swollen and make mucus; this narrows or blocks your airways, making it difficult to breathe and causing you to cough.
COPD develops and gets worse over time. Its symptoms include shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t breathe, constant coughing, and wheezing.
Risks for COPD
Some things increase an individual’s risk for developing COPD, including:
- Smoking—This is the most common cause of COPD; research suggests that at least 10 out of 15 smokers develop COPD, and smoking accounts for nine out of 10 COPD-related deaths.
- Environmental exposure—COPD can occur if you’ve been exposed to irritants like chemicals, dust or fumes; secondhand smoke can also contribute to COPD.
- Family history—A genetic condition called AAT deficiency can cause COPD.
- Chronic asthma—You can develop COPD if your lungs have permanent damage from asthma.
What You Can Do
Whether you are at risk for COPD or have been diagnosed, there are steps you can take to improve your health and quality of life.
- Quit smoking—This is the most important step you can take to reduce your risk for COPD or improve your health if you suffer from the disease.
- Talk with and see your doctor regularly—Your doctor can test you for COPD, help you quit smoking and prescribe medications that help control your symptoms.
- Get a flu shot—The flu can cause serious problems for people with COPD.
If your personal Health Questionnaire/Health Assessment results indicate you are at risk for or you have been diagnosed with COPD, we encourage you to learn more about the lifestyle coaching and disease management programs that may be available through your health plan provider (Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan, or UnitedHealthcare).
Also, learn all you can about your condition. These websites provide information and support resources: