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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a combination of lung diseases that leads to a buildup of mucus or loss of elasticity in the lungs, resulting in restricted or blocked airflow that makes breathing increasingly difficult. Symptoms of COPD occur when the bronchial tubes become inflamed and thickened or the tiny air sacs in the lungs are less able to stretch, allowing less air to go in and out of the lungs. This limits not only the intake of oxygen but also the amount of carbon dioxide that can be exhaled. Most commonly the result of long-term smoking, COPD is one of the leading causes of illness or death in the world and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) commonly includes one, and often both, of the following:
Bronchitis occurs when the breathing tubes become inflamed and narrowed, resulting in shortness of breath. Excess mucus causes a long-term chronic cough and increases the likelihood of bacterial lung infections.
Emphysema results from damage to the tiny air sacs in the lungs, which become less able to stretch and may collapse, inhibiting airflow into and out of the lungs. This causes inefficient breathing, so you have to work harder than normal to inhale and exhale, and also causes you to breathe more quickly. The essential exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is also adversely affected. This can make even routine life tasks such as walking, simple housework, bathing, and dressing more difficult, and breathing difficulty often worsens during exercise.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on Jul 29, 2010
Updated on Sep 21, 2012
Medically reviewed by Eric Steinmehl
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