Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD awareness can encourage people with symptoms to seek help earlier, improving their quality of life. It may also elevate awareness of COPD risk factors, helping decrease the prevalence of this lung condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COPD affects at least 16 million people in the United States. They suggest that many more people may have the condition but have not yet received a diagnosis or treatment.

Cigarette smoke is the most common cause of COPD. People may also develop COPD from exposure to other harmful substances, such as pollution and workplace chemicals. This means it is a preventable disease. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, may also slow COPD progression.

COPD awareness helps people understand the risks of smoking and chemical exposure. It may help people with symptoms to seek treatment earlier and could even improve a person’s life expectancy.

Read on to learn more about COPD awareness, including what it is and why it is important.

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COPD occurs when irritants such as toxic chemicals, pollution, and cigarette smoke damage the lungs. Over time, this can cause chronic inflammation that narrows the airways and makes the lungs work less efficiently.

The condition includes two diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Emphysema causes damage to the alveoli, which are air sacs where the lungs exchange gas. Chronic bronchitis can cause the airways to become inflamed and narrow.

Both conditions make the lungs work less well and can make it difficult to breathe. It is often harder to breathe when a person exerts themselves, such as during exercise or in high temperatures.

Over time, COPD can lead to respiratory failure. End stage COPD causes severe breathing problems and eventually death. A person with COPD may also have a higher risk of other health problems, such as heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

Learn more about COPD.

COPD is a very common lung disease and the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Still, many people do not know about it or how to prevent it.

A 2019 study assessing public interest in COPD used data from Google searches between 2004 and 2018 and found that COPD was highly underrepresented relative to its prevalence and effect on global health. This study and others indicate a pressing need to raise awareness of COPD.

COPD awareness focuses on bringing greater attention to the condition and to treatment and preventive strategies for overcoming it. Over time, this could lower the rate of COPD and improve the quality of life and life expectancy of people who have it.

November is National COPD Awareness Month. During this time, people within the COPD community come together to inform and educate others about the condition.

The COPD National Action Plan is a tool that promotes education about the condition, makes public health recommendations for preventing and treating COPD, and tracks progress toward those goals over time. National programs such as Learn More and Breathe Better also help bring better visibility to all lung diseases.

Important statistics to know about COPD include the following:

  • COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the third-leading cause worldwide.
  • Approximately 75% of COPD deaths result from smoking.
  • At least 16.4 million adults in the U.S. have a diagnosis of COPD, and many more may have the condition but never get an accurate diagnosis.
  • In 2020, the CDC reported that 5% of American adults had received a diagnosis of COPD, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema throughout their lifetimes.
  • Rates of COPD are much higher among people over the age of 40 and steadily increase with advancing age.
  • Males are more likely than females to develop and die from COPD.

COPD awareness is important for many reasons. For example:

  • It can help people detect signs and symptoms of COPD earlier, encouraging them to seek treatment. Increasing access to early treatment may prolong people’s lives and increase their quality of life.
  • It may discourage people from smoking and encourage them to adopt protective strategies when working with potentially dangerous chemicals.
  • It raises awareness of the dangers of air pollution.
  • It may inspire political and public health action, such as increased funding for testing, treatment, and outreach campaigns.
  • It can help dispel myths about COPD, such as that all cases of COPD result from smoking.

COPD is a life-limiting, progressive condition that currently has no cure. It is a leading cause of death worldwide.

Despite this, a 2018 study emphasized that many people with COPD do not understand the progressive and potentially deadly nature of the diagnosis.

COPD can affect a person’s life in many ways. They may experience the following:

Treatment, including oxygen therapy, may help ease symptoms. In the end stages of the disease, palliative care may help with pain, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms.

Learn more about COPD treatment.

Smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD. However, about a quarter of people with COPD have never smoked.

Other risk factors include:

  • a family history of the condition
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • exposure to environmental toxins, such as pollution or workplace chemicals
  • alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder that increases the risk of lung and liver disease

Learn more about COPD risk factors.

The COPD National Action Plan outlines a framework of action for raising awareness of COPD, lowering its impact, and promoting legislation that benefits people living with COPD.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and other federal organizations first published the plan in 2017 as a collaborative effort.

It has five core goals:

  • To empower people with COPD and their families and caregivers.
  • To improve diagnosis, prevention, management, and treatment of COPD.
  • To collect COPD data to drive improvements in care and outcomes.
  • To increase and support COPD research.
  • To take meaningful public health actions through national policy, programs, and education.

The COPD community, which involves a range of people from at risk individuals, friends and family of people with the condition, healthcare professionals, scientists, and policymakers, must come together to use the national plan. For example, some people might not understand what COPD is, so it is important for healthcare professionals to make this information accessible to all.

COPD is a chronic, progressive illness. However, a person can live a long life with COPD, especially if they get early treatment.

Awareness of COPD encourages people to understand the condition and seek treatment when needed. It may also inspire political and public health activities, such as providing additional funding for research and treatment. On an individual level, increased awareness may encourage healthy choices, such as quitting smoking.

COPD is a leading cause of death worldwide, but many people do not recognize the danger it poses. Spreading awareness may change this, steadily lowering the rate of COPD.