What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung conditions where it’s difficult to breathe air out of the lungs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death worldwide, causing 3.23 million deaths in 2019.

There are two main forms of COPD:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus
  • Emphysema, which involves damage to the lungs over time

Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.

What Causes COPD?

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The more a person smokes, the more likely that person will develop COPD. But some people smoke for years and never get COPD.

Risk Factors of COPD

A person can get COPD with or without the ones listed below. The chances of getting COPD are greater in people who have many.


COPD is more common in people who are over 40 years of age. This may be due to long term smoking.


COPD is more common in men. This may be due to the higher rate of smoking among men.


Most people get COPD from smoking tobacco products. People who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke are also at risk.

Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers also may be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of second-hand smoke. Asthma, a chronic inflammatory airway disease, may be a risk factor for developing COPD. The combination of asthma and smoking increases the risk of COPD even more.

Exposure to Pollutants

Chronic exposure to dust, gases, chemicals, and fuels raises the risk of developing COPD. These include smoke from burning wood, charcoal, and crop residue.

See also  Calls for banning flavoured e-cigarettes!

Genetic Factors

People with alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency are at greater risk of COPD. This is a deficiency of a blood component that runs in families. There are also other gene changes that have been linked to COPD.

More information can be found out about alpha-1antitrpsin at the British Lung Foundation.


How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed using a simple breathing test called spirometry. A spirometry is a simple test used to help diagnose and monitor certain lung conditions by measuring how much air you can breathe out in one forced breath.

Link between metal illness and COPD

Life expectancy of people with serious mental illness is 13 to 30 years less than that of the general population, a gap that has widened over time. Pulmonary disease is a leading cause of elevated mortality risk in serious mental illness, along with cardiovascular and infectious disease and diabetes.

Childhood Trauma Linked to COPD Development Later in Life

There is a correlation between adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and COPD development, with a more pronounced association in women research found.

In study results published in International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, researchers examined the data of 26,546 women and 19,015 men. Occurrences of childhood abuse, household dysfunction, and COPD diagnoses were recorded in addition to age, gender, race, marital status, education, and smoking status.

From their analysis, the investigators noted 12.7% and 4.4% of respondents were diagnosed with asthma and COPD, respectively. Overall, 63.1% of participants claimed they experienced one ACE prior to age 18.

Having a comorbid mental illness triples the mortality risk of chronic lower respiratory disease

See also  Nicotine - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Living with a long-term lung condition can affect many aspects of your life. You’ll have physical symptoms, like getting out of breath and feeling tired. Lung conditions can also affect your mood, how you feel, and your ability to cope with daily life.

Prevalence of COPD among those with serious mental illness

Individuals with serious mental illness have elevated smoking rates, and smoking is a significant risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

How does COPD affect mental health?

Many people with long-term lung conditions experience mental health problems as well as their condition. You might feel anxious; have low moods, or symptoms of depression. It’s very common to experience anxiety and depression together. You might have experienced traumatic events because of your lung condition.

There is no cure for COPD, but early diagnosis and treatment are important to slow the progression of symptoms and reduce the risk of flare-ups.

How is COPD treated?

If you have COPD, the most important thing you can do to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life is to Quit Smoking.

Avoid tobacco smoke and other air pollutants at home and at work.


Symptoms such as coughing or wheezing can be treated with medicine. Usually with an combination of inhalers.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

A personalised treatment program can teach you how to manage your COPD symptoms to improve your quality of life.

Prevention and treatment of lung infections

Lung infections can cause serious problems in people with COPD. Certain vaccines, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, are especially important for people with COPD.


Respiratory infections are treated with antibiotics if appropriate.

Emotional Health

For people living with COPD, the physical challenges of managing the disease can sometimes affect your mood and emotional health. Most COPD patients experience feelings of sadness, fear and worry at times. It is common and normal when coping with a serious illness. But if those feelings don’t go away after a few weeks, or they start to affect your ability to keep up with normal activities and enjoy life, then you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Depression may be both a cause and a consequence of COPD.


Life expectancy for many diseases is often expressed as a 5-year survival rate (the percentage of patients who will be living 5 years after diagnosis). The 5-year life expectancy for people with COPD ranges from 40% to 70%, depending on disease severity. This means that 5 years after diagnosis 40 to 70 out of 100 people will still be alive. For severe COPD, the 2-year survival rate is just 50%.


Taking into account all of the above factors, if you are a smoker currently living with COPD or suspect you may have COPD the best step you can take is to quit smoking now.

This will not only slow down the rate of the disease, it will also reduce the risk of developing other diseases related to smoking, including heart disease and different cancers.

There is plenty of help available from NHS England to help you quit smoking but if you have tried all of these techniques and still find it difficult or impossible to quit, vaping/e-cigarettes offer a good alternative.