COPD and Common Risk Factors

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive condition affecting the respiratory system that causes difficulty breathing and is the third leading cause of death in the United States according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  Unfortunately there is no cure for COPD at this time; however, preventative measures, early detection, and change in behavior can abate the growth of the disease, which is why it is important to know the leading causes of this common affliction.

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD is the name for a group of diseases that restrict airflow and cause trouble breathing and includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are several risk factors to be aware of, including a history of smoking and a history of being exposed to environmental or occupational pollutants, but the largest percentage of Kentucky adults with COPD is between the ages of 55-74. In Indiana, there are a significant number of individuals over the age of 75 that have been diagnosed.

What Is Used to Make a COPD Diagnosis?

Spirometry is one common test that your doctor may use to determine if you have COPD. This simple breathing test measures the amount of air you breathe out, or forced vital capacity (FVC) and the rate in which you can expel the air out, or forced expiratory volume (FEV). In addition, this test can help your health care professional determine how severe the COPD is to assist with treatment recommendations.

Risk Factors That Contribute to COPD


By far the most prevalent cause of COPD is cigarette smoke and that of other tobacco products such as cigars and pipes, most notably when the resulting smoke is inhaled.

Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, and people exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk. The bad news: COPD is incurable. The good news: it’s treatable and preventable. “You can still prolong your life by quitting smoking,” said Scott Kellie, MD, a pulmonologist on the medical staff at Baptist Health Louisville and Baptist Health La Grange. “Smoking cessation will also improve your quality of life.”

Second-hand Smoke

Second-hand smoke, while not always as apparent, can also cause the development of COPD in individuals who live with a habitual smoker or are otherwise regularly exposed to large amounts of cigarette smoke.

Airborne Toxins

Much like second-hand smoke, air pollutants or fumes can also contribute to the advent of COPD in people frequently exposed to an abundance of toxins in the air that they breathe, especially those associated with the burning of fuels.


Approximately 2-3% of those suffering from COPD are subject to the disease due to a genetic defect called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that inhibits the body from protecting the lungs sufficiently, opening up the possibility of the development of COPD over time.


Albeit uncommon, asthma does have the potential to cause COPD when left untreated due to damage associated with the common respiratory condition.

If you feel that you may be predisposed to COPD due to the common risk factors, consult your primary care physician on potential lifestyle changes they may prevent or delay the progression of the disease and read further for more information on the signs and symptoms of COPD.


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