Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an overall term used to describe a variety of lung diseases that make breathing difficult, including bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. Pulmonary disease can leave a sufferer with permanently damaged lungs and sufferers have difficulty breathing most of the time.
There are 600 000 known cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the UK, and most people affected are over the age of 40. The sixth most common cause of death in England and Wales, lung-related illness accounts for over 30 000 deaths per year.
The most common cause of such conditions is smoking. Cigarette smoke causes the lungs to become inflamed, and it also reduces the lungs’ elasticity, so they are less able to expand and contract as you breathe. Not only that, cigarette smoke also damages the tiny air sacs at the end of the airways in your lungs, the alveoli, through which you absorb oxygen into your blood. COPD can also be brought on by air pollution, by some inherited conditions, or by extended exposure to dust or indoor pollution from wood or coal burning stoves, for instance, while at work.
Lung-related illnesses generally cause narrowing of the airways, blocking air flow in and out of the lungs, and making it harder to breathe. In the case of chronic bronchitis, this is caused by the production of too much mucus in the airways. In emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs lose their elasticity and stay over-inflated, until holes develop in the walls, and they stop working properly.
Giving up smoking, avoiding passive smoking and exercising daily will all greatly reduce the risk of developing COPD.