Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

By: Victoria Clements, CPMC Research Associate
Reviewed by: Roy Levinson, MD, Cooper University Hospital and Tara Schmidlen, MS, CGC, Coriell Institute for Medical Research

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is an umbrella term for a group of lung diseases that cause inflammation of the airways, causing blocked airflow and difficulty breathing. COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases asthma1,2. It is not uncommon for individuals with COPD to exhibit symptoms of more than one of these lung diseases. Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. Emphysema occurs when the air sacs (alveoli) at the end of the smallest air passages (bronchioles) in the lungs are gradually destroyed3.

COPD is a progressive, chronic disease. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms may not be noticeable4 because COPD develops slowly. Symptoms often worsen over time and can limit an individual's ability to engage in routine activities. Severe COPD may restrict even basic activities like walking, cooking, or taking care of oneself. Most of the time, COPD is diagnosed in middle-aged or older adults. COPD currently has no cure and doctors do not yet know how to reverse COPD-related damage to the airways and lungs. However, COPD is preventable and treatable in many cases5. Treatments and lifestyle changes can help improve quality of life, increase activity level, and can help slow the progression of the disease6.

How Common is COPD?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that COPD affects over 24 million Americans4.

To schedule a free telephone consultation to discuss your CPMC results with a board-certified genetic counselor, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Learn more about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, from symptoms to understanding your risk, through the links below.

Page References

1. CDC. What is COPD? 2013 November 13, 2013 [cited 2015 01/13/2015]; Available from:
2. WHO. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic respiratory diseases 2015 [cited 2015 January 16]; Available from:
3. Clinic, M. COPD. Diseases and Conditions 2014 Feb. 12, 2014 [cited 2015 January 16]; Available from:
4. Foundation, C. What is COPD? 2015 [cited 2015 January 16 ]; Available from:
5. ALA. Understanding COPD. 2015 [cited 2015 January 16]; Available from:
6. NHLBI. What is COPD? Health Topics 2013 July 31, 2013 [cited 2015 JAnuary 16]; Available from:

Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Learn more about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Learn More› ]

Risk Factors

Both genetic and non-genetic factors play a role in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Learn More› ]

Reduce Your Risk

Risk-reducing behaviors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Learn More› ]

The CPMC Study

Learn how the CPMC Study identifies your risk for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Learn More› ]