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What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD is a long-term lung disease often caused by smoking.

COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Many people with COPD have both bronchitis and emphysema.

What does COPD do to my lungs?

COPD slowly damages your airways, the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. COPD makes airways swollen and partly blocked by mucus. It also damages in the tiny air sacs at the tips of your airways. This makes it hard to move air in and out of your lungs.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The main symptoms of COPD are a long-lasting cough, coughing up mucus, and being short of breath. Learn more about COPD symptoms >

How do doctors diagnose COPD?

Doctors diagnose COPD by testing your lungs. They use a simple test called spirometry, which measures how much air you can move out of your lungs. They also use other tests. Learn more about COPD diagnosis >

Why is it important to get COPD diagnosed early?

When COPD is diagnosed early, it's easier to treat. If you don't catch COPD early, it will be harder to treat and you will have more symptoms and more lung damage.

If you are a smoker or a former smoker and you're over 40, take the Canadian Lung Health Test to see if you have symptoms of COPD.

What's the treatment for COPD?

There is no cure for COPD, but there are good treatments:

People with COPD can take other steps to manage their symptoms:

Learn more about treatment for COPD >

What's the outlook for COPD? What can I expect?

COPD is progressive— it gets worse over time.

Having COPD may put you at risk for other health problems, including:

  • frequent chest infections, including pneumonia and the flu (influenza)
  • pulmonary hypertension: higher-than-usual blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs
  • heart problems
  • osteopenia or osteoporosis, the thinning of the bones
  • eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts
  • cachexia: losing body mass and muscles, losing your appetite, feeling nauseated and weak
  • malnutrition: not getting enough nutrients from food, not eating enough
  • weak muscles
  • lung cancer

Getting the most out of life when you have COPD

If you have COPD, it's important to learn how to take care of yourself. And it's important to reach out for help and company.

Many people with COPD enjoy a happy and productive life despite their disease. COPD patient Darlene Morgan knows what it's like to face COPD. "I have truly made my COPD diagnosis a new beginning in my life. Two years ago I was on life support in hospital. Now I can enjoy a half-hour walk with my children, grandchildren and dog. I feel better than I have in years," she says. Read more about Darlene's journey with COPD, and other patients' COPD stories.

It's also important to talk to your doctor and family about what kind of care you will need in future years, and what you can do now to get ready for the future.

What causes COPD?

In countries like Canada, smoking causes about 80% of COPD cases. Other things that can cause COPD are:

Can we prevent COPD?

Yes. We can prevent most cases of COPD by not smoking and by staying away from second-hand smoke and other air pollution. If you smoke, you can reduce your chance of getting COPD by quitting as soon as possible. It's never too late to quit smoking- learn how and get help.

Get help and support for COPD

If you or someone you love has COPD, you may have many questions and concerns. The Lung Association is here to help. For information, support and advice on COPD, please call The Lung Association's free, confidential COPD Helpline: 1-866-717-2673 (1-866-717-COPD). It's toll-free in Canada.

Learn more about COPD

This website offers many pages about COPD. You can print out the web pages by clicking on "Printable version" on the bottom right corner of each page.

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