Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the gradual loss of your ability to breathe. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States, affecting 13.5 million Americans, though it is observed worldwide in populations with high rates of smoking and air pollution. The three major conditions associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic asthma.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is characterized by damage inside the airway, which causes the lining of the respiratory symptom to swell, thicken, and produce extra mucus. This can cause a persistent cough as the body tries to get rid of excess mucus, in addition to shortness of breath and recurrent infections.


Emphysema occurs when the tiny air sacs within the lungs lose flexibility, making it harder to expand and contract. This reduces the amount of oxygen that the lungs can absorb, and the amount of carbon dioxide that the lungs can expel. Symptoms include wheezing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath.

Chronic Asthma

By itself, chronic asthma is not COPD, but may be combined with emphysema or bronchitis in a COPD diagnosis. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airway, with recurrent episodes of wheezing, chest tightness, breathlessness, and coughing.

Classic symptoms of COPD are labored breathing, chronic cough, mucus production, wheezing, and chest tightness. You may experience extreme weight gain or weight and muscle loss, dependent on the type of COPD you suffer from. The major risk factors associated with COPD are cigarette smoking (accounting for 95% of cases), air pollution, recurrent infections, and cannabis smoking.

Damage done to the lungs by COPD cannot be reversed and gets worse as time progresses, especially during physical exertion or exercise. Breathing begins to require more energy which causes difficulty with routine activities. Treatment can slow the progression of COPD and make you more comfortable. In addition to ventilation therapy, your doctor may prescribe inhalers, antibiotics, and oxygen. If you smoke, you would benefit from quitting.