General Information on COPD
Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis
In the United States, COPD includes:
- Chronic bronchitis.
In the emphysema type of COPD, the walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed, leading to a few large air sacs, instead of many tiny ones. Then, the lung looks like a sponge with many large bubbles or holes in it, instead of a sponge with very even, tiny holes. These few large air sacs have less surface area than the normal tiny ones for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide causes shortness of breath.
In chronic bronchitis, the airways have become inflamed and thickened, and there is an increase in the number and size of the mucus-producing cells. This results in excessive mucus production, which, in turn, contributes to cough and difficulty getting air in and out of the lungs.
Most people with COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Other names for COPD include chronic obstructive airway disease and chronic obstructive lung disease.
What Causes COPD?
Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Most people with the condition are smokers or former smokers. Breathing in other kinds of lung irritants, like pollution, dust, or chemicals, over a long period of time may also cause or contribute to COPD.
COPD is not contagious, meaning you cannot catch it from someone else.
(Click Causes of COPD for more information.)
What Are the Symptoms?
COPD symptoms typically include:
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms may suddenly get worse. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much of the lung has been destroyed; if you continue to smoke, the lung destruction is faster than if you stop smoking.
(Click COPD Symptoms for more information.)