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COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

​​​​​​​​​​​​Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease​ (COPD) is a term describing diseases that make it difficult to breathe.

The airways in your lungs become restricted leading to shortness of breath.

Two common types of COPD are:

Chronic bronchitis


Pulmonary specialists at Marshfield Clinic treat all types of diseases and conditions of your respiratory system.​

What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It means the airways in your lungs are blocked (obstructed).

Because of this, it is hard to breathe. You may have trouble with daily activities because of shortness of breath.

Over time the shortness of breath usually worsens making it more and more difficult to take care of yourself and take part in activities.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two common types of COPD.

Cross section of bronchiole showing airway mostly blocked by mucus, inflammation, and muscle constriction.

What happens in chronic bronchitis?

The cells in the airways make more mucus than normal. The mucus builds up, narrowing the airways. This means less air travels into and out of the lungs. The lining of the airways may also become inflamed (swollen) and causes the airways to narrow even more.  

Collapsed bronchiole and alveolar sacs with emphysema.

What happens in emphysema?

The small airways are damaged and lose their stretchiness. The airways collapse when you exhale, causing air to get trapped in the air sacs. This means that less oxygen enters the blood vessels and less oxygen is delivered to all of the cells of your body. This makes it hard to breathe.

Cells with damaged cilia showing mucus buildup and particles in mucus.

Damage to cilia

Cilia are small hairs that line and protect the airways. Smoking damages the cilia. Damaged cilia can’t sweep mucus and particles away. Some of the cilia are destroyed. This damage worsens COPD.

How did I get COPD?

Most people get COPD from smoking. Cigarette smoke damages lungs, which can develop into COPD over many years.

How COPD affects you

COPD makes you work harder to breathe. Air may get trapped in the lungs, which prevents your lungs from filling completely with fresh oxygen-filled air when you inhale (breathe in).

It's harder to take deep breaths especially when you are active and start breathing faster. Over time, your lungs may become enlarged filling the lung with air that does not transfer oxygen into the blood.

These problems cause you to have shortness of breath (also called dyspnea).

Wheezing (hoarse, whistling breathing), chronic cough, and fatigue (feeling tired and worn out) are also common. 

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If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Call: 1-866-520-2510

(Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

What Do You Know About COPD?

Smoking is the main cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious illness that makes breathing difficult. Take this quiz to find out more about COPD and how to prevent it.

1. Which of the following diseases is included in the umbrella term COPD?
2. People in what age group are most likely to say they have symptoms of COPD?
3. Long-term exposure to which of the following can increase the risk for COPD?
4. Which of the following can help improve your health if you have COPD?
5. Respiratory infections are major health risks for someone with COPD. Which of the following steps helps prevent these dangerous infections?
6. How is COPD treated?
7. Which of the following eating habits can help people with COPD stay healthy?
8. Which of the following ideas can help you stay active if you have COPD?