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What You Need to Know About COPD


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is something that affects millions of Americans — whether they know it or not. It’s one of the leading causes of death in our country, and it’s a serious condition that, without treatment, only gets worse over time.

Beyond the long-term health effects of COPD, this chronic condition can make it difficult for those who have it to live normal lives. That’s why it’s so important to get informed and learn more about this common yet preventable disease.

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic condition where the lungs are damaged and unable to function properly, which makes it difficult to breathe. There are actually two separate conditions that make up the disease known as COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Who Gets COPD?

It’s estimated that there are over 15 million people in the United States who have been diagnosed with COPD — but there are millions more who are living with undiagnosed COPD. And while anyone can develop this disease, the following statistics from the Chest Foundation highlight who is at higher risk to develop COPD:

  • Women are 37% more likely to develop COPD than men
  • Non-Hispanic white adults are at greatest risk
  • Chronic bronchitis and emphysema affects the 45-64 age group more than any other age group

What Are the Causes of COPD?

COPD occurs when a person’s lungs and/or airways become damaged, which makes it more difficult to breathe. The following are the most common causes of COPD:

Smoking – According to the American Lung Association, 85 to 90 percent of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. This is because the chemicals and toxins in cigarettes weaken your lungs, narrow air passages, and cause air tubes to swell — all of which can lead to the development of COPD.

Environment – A person’s home, work, or everyday environment can be a major factor in whether or not they develop COPD. Air pollution, second-hand smoke, dust, etc., can all contribute to this.

Alpha-1 Deficiencies – Alpha-1 is a protein that is normally produced by a person’s body, but those with specific genetic conditions may be deficient in it. This protein plays an essential role in protecting the lungs, so these people are at a higher risk of developing a rare form of COPD.

If you’re worried that you may be on track to developing COPD, visit to learn more about how you can reduce your risk.

How is COPD Diagnosed and Treated?

Shortness of breath, frequent cough, frequent colds, fatigue, blue lips, and blue fingernails are all common COPD symptoms, and this disease is diagnosed with what is called a spirometry test. This involves blowing into a machine known as a spirometer, which calculates the amount of air you are able to blow out, to determine how well your lungs are working. You can learn more about spirometry tests at

Once diagnosed, there are a variety of treatment options available, depending on a person’s circumstances and the recommendations of their doctor. While there is no cure for COPD, treatment does exist to help those with COPD live more complete, fulfilling lives. Treatment options include:

If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, you probably have a lot of questions about your next steps. Watch this video from the team at University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center (UM CRMC), then talk with your doctor to determine the best treatment options for you.

Where Can You Get COPD Support and Treatment?

UM CRMC is proud to serve patients in Southern Maryland with its robust Cardiopulmonary Department. This specialized department is dedicated to actively treating and caring for patients with breathing disorders, including those with COPD.

In addition, we regularly host meetings of the Better Breathers Club — a patient-focused, community-based support group for members of the community who are dealing with COPD and other breathing disorders. Visit our Facebook page or call (301) 609-4391 today to learn more about the Better Breathers Club at UM CRMC.

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