What Is COPD And How Do You Get It?

According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and hinders natural airflow from the lungs, straining a person's ability to breathe. This disease afflicts 65 million people worldwide, and at least 16 million people in the United States, if not more (per Healthline). It is the third leading cause of death by disease among Americans and is more likely to kill women than men, partly because many women are misdiagnosed and improperly treated (via American Lung Association).

Unfortunately, the disease often goes undetected for a very long time because many people do not recognize the warning signs, such as fatigue and shortness of breath. People may falsely attribute these warning signs to aging.

A person with this disease may experience cough, wheezing, lethargy, chest tightness, swelling, weight loss, and difficulty breathing. They may suffer from respiratory infections frequently, and cough up mucus that may range in color from clear to yellow to green. People with COPD are more prone to colds, flu, pneumonia, heart disease, and lung cancer (per Mayo Clinic).

With this in mind, you may be wondering what causes COPD, and how you can prevent it from happening to you.

These are the most common causes of COPD

According to the American Lung Association, COPD can be attributed to smoking in up to 90% of cases. Smoking increases the risk of death from COPD by nearly 13 times for women and 12 times for men.

However, there are some cases of COPD that develop among nonsmokers. These are often caused by frequent long-term exposure to lung irritants. These irritants may include fumes, dust, chemicals, and secondhand smoke. In 1% of cases, COPD is caused by Alpha-1 deficiency, a genetic condition that reduces protection of the lungs (via Mayo Clinic).

The most effective way to prevent COPD is to either stop smoking or never start. A tobacco cessation program may be helpful in your quest to quit smoking and will greatly benefit your health. On average, smokers live ten fewer years than nonsmokers, but if you give up smoking by the age of 40, you cut your risk of death from smoking-related diseases by 90% (per CDC).

In addition, do your best to avoid secondhand smoke. According to the American Lung Association, another way to reduce your risk for COPD is to advocate for clean air for the benefit of yourself and everybody else in your community.