What is COPD?

COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a persistent inflammatory disease of the airways and lungs and is developed due to inhalation of toxic substances. The disease is characterised by inflammation of the big (bronchitis) and small (bronchiolitis) airways of the lungs, as well as damage in the actual lung tissue including formation of cavities (emphysema). Tobacco smoke is the most common cause of the disease, but other exposure, for example in different work environments, may also lead to COPD. 

In the UK, it is thought that more than 3 million people are living with COPD but only 900,000 have been diagnosed.1 Today COPD is the fifth most common cause of death in the UK

COPD does not usually appear before the age of 45 but the occurrence will increase with age and about half of all smokers who have reached the age of 75 have COPD. Most people affected have a mild to moderately severe disease. Most people with COPD also suffer from a daily cough,cough up sputum and suffer with chronic bronchitis.

COPD stages and definition

Many people who suffer from COPD are periodically getting worse, with an increased cough, increased amounts of mucus in the airways and increased shortness of breath. These episodes, referred to as exacerbations, may affect the status of the disease for several months and periodically get worse.  

The clinical picture and the course of the disease may vary between different individuals suffering from COPD. Some have large amounts of mucus in the airways while others have a dry cough. In some  the loss of lung function will happen rapidly, while others have a slower yearly decrease of lung function. Some often experience exacerbations while others do not have any exacerbations at all.



1. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx Date accessed December 2015. 

2. www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/futurenhs/deliver-forward-view/sop/red-prem-mort/rd/   Date accessed December 2015. 

UK/GEN/15/0058                                  Date of preparation: December 2015