The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its fact sheet on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung disease that is characterized by a persistent reduction of airflow. The symptoms of COPD are progressively worsening and persistent breathlessness on exertion, eventually leading to breathlessness at rest. It tends to be under-diagnosed and can be life-threatening.
The more familiar terms “chronic bronchitis” and “emphysema” have often been used as labels for the condition.
The Global Burden of Disease Study reports a prevalence of 251 million cases of COPD globally in 2016.
Globally, it is estimated that 3.17 million deaths were caused by the disease in 2015 (that is, 5% of all deaths globally in that year).
More than 90% of COPD deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
COPD is likely to increase in coming years due to higher smoking prevalence and aging populations in many countries.
The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke (including secondhand or passive exposure). Other risk factors may include:
- indoor air pollution (such as solid fuel used for cooking and heating)
- outdoor air pollution
- occupational dusts and chemicals (such as vapours, irritants, and fumes)
- frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood.
Exposure to indoor air pollution can affect the unborn child and represent a risk factor for developing COPD later in life.
Some cases of COPD are due to long-term asthma.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease develops slowly and usually becomes apparent after 40 or 50 years of age.
The most common symptoms of COPD are
- breathlessness (or a “need for air”),
- chronic cough, and
- sputum (mucous) production.
Daily activities, such as walking up a short flight of stairs or carrying a suitcase, and even daily routine activities can become very difficult as the condition gradually worsens. Sufferers also frequently experience exacerbations, that is, serious episodes of increased breathlessness, cough and sputum production that last from several days to a few weeks. These episodes can be seriously disabling and result in need for urgent medical care (including hospitalization) and sometimes death.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is usually suspected in people who experience the symptoms described above and can be confirmed by a breathing test called “spirometry” that measures how much and how quickly a person can forcibly exhale air.
The most effective and cost-effective available treatment for COPD in people who continue to smoke is smoking cessation. Smoking cessation can slow down the progress of the disease in smokers and decrease COPD-related deaths.
It is important that countries adopt the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) and implement the MPOWER package of measures so that non-smoking becomes the norm globally.
In some, but not all, people with COPD, treatment with inhaled corticosteroid medicines has a beneficial effect.
COPD is not curable, but treatment can relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and reduce the risk of death.
Link to the updated fact sheet:
Link to WHO page on COPD:
Link to WHO’s Question and Answer page on COPD:
Link to WHO’s Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD) page:
Link to WHO’s document ‘Indoor Air Pollution, Health and the Burden of Disease’:
Link to WHO’s Indoor Air Pollution Guidelines: Household Fuel Consumption:
Link to WHO guideline document: Guidelines for primary health care in low-resource settings- Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke, Chronic Respiratory Disease:
Link to WHO Package of Essential NCD interventions for Primary Health Care: Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke, Chronic Respiratory Disease: