Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a chronic inflammatory lung disease. It is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD encompasses a group of long-term lung diseases, most commonly chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation and mucus build-up in the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. The narrowing of these tubes, in addition to the mucus, leads to obstructed air-flow and a persistent cough. Emphysema slowly damages the alveoli, or tiny air sacs in the lung, causing their inner walls to weaken and rupture. Alveoli damage reduces the amount of oxygen that can reach the bloodstream, resulting in shortness of breath. Most cases of COPD involve both of these conditions to varying degrees.

woman at doctors office

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. It is estimated that 90% of people who have COPD are smokers or former smokers. Other factors that contribute to the development and progression of COPD include exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollution, and workplace exposure to dust, smoke, or fumes. Symptoms of COPD, including shortness of breath, cough that produces mucus, wheezing, and chest tightness, get progressively worse and harder to ignore. Although there is no cure, treatments such as oxygen therapy, surgery, or certain medicines may relieve symptoms. The best way to prevent COPD is not to smoke!

According to the American Lung Association, women are more vulnerable than men to lung damage from smoking and breathing other pollutants in air.

For more information on smoking as a risk factor for COPD, contact the department’s Bureau of Community Health and Wellness at (573) 522-2820.

For more information on COPD and women’s health, contact the department’s Section for Women’s Health at (573) 526-0445.


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