Chest Information and Support > Common chest conditions > Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a group of lung conditions that cause long-term damage to the airways. In COPD the airways are narrowed, due to a variety of causes, so the air you breathe cannot flow freely in or out of the lungs.

Chronic = long term

Obstructive = describes the narrowing of the airways

Pulmonary = of the lungs

Disease = illness

Symptoms of COPD

The main symptoms of COPD are:

  • Coughing
  • Regular production of sputum (phlegm)
  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing

You may also have other symptoms such as repeated chest infections, weight loss and tiredness (fatigue).

Causes of COPD

The main cause of COPD is smoking.

  • Up to 1 out of every 4 people (25%) who are long-term smokers will develop COPD
  • In the UK, about 8 out of every 10 people with COPD are either current smokers or have previously smoked

Other factors that may cause COPD include:

  • Poor air quality
  • Work-related exposure to dust, chemicals and fumes
  • Genetic factors, such as a deficiency in alpha-1 antitrypsin (a protein that protects your lungs)
Find out more about COPD in our booklet Living with COPD (PDF) and our Essential Guide to COPD (PDF).