What is COPD

COPD means Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD is the new name for two major breathing diseases that cause airways to become “obstructed” or blocked: Obstructive chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Obstructive chronic bronchitis: When airways are constantly attacked by pollutants, such as those found in cigarette smoke, they become inflamed and filled with thick, sticky mucous. You cough to clear your airways. Later, the bronchi may become obstructed or with limited airflow: lungs do not fully empty and air is trapped.

Emphysema: Your bronchial tubes branch into smaller and smaller tubes, which end in millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli. The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place in the alveoli. When your alveoli are damaged or destroyed, it becomes difficult for the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and less oxygen gets into your body. Your lungs do not fully empty and air is trapped.

These diseases often occur together but they can also occur separately.

Think you have COPD?

If you are over 40 and smoke or used to smoke, you may have COPD. Some non-smokers can also get COPD. We recommend you take the 30-second Lung Health Test.

Take this quick test to screen for symptoms of COPD:

  • Do you cough regularly?
  • Do you cough up phlegm regularly?
  • Do even simple chores make you short of breath?
  • Do you wheeze when you exert yourself (exercise, go up stairs)?
  • Do you get many colds, and do your colds usually last longer than your friends' colds?

If you answered "Yes" to one or more of these questions, you may have symptoms of COPD. See your doctor to find out what is causing your symptoms. It could be COPD, it could be another breathing disease, or it could be something else. Only your doctor can say.

Note: This test is for information purposes only. It should not replace a complete medical examination by a doctor. If you think you may have COPD or are worried about your health, please see your doctor.


Only your doctor can diagnose if you have COPD after examining you and giving you a simple breathing test called spirometry.

Spirometry is a common and effective diagnostic test that can easily be done in your doctor's office or at a nearby hospital or clinic. You will be asked to blow, as long and hard as you can, into a small tube attached to a machine. The machine measures how long it takes to blow out all the air from your lungs. The more blocked your airways, the longer it takes to blow the air out. Spirometry is the most reliable way to test your lungs for COPD. Your doctor may call spirometry by another name including: pulmonary function test (PFT) or lung function test.

Other additional tests may include Chest X-rays (to rule out other possible diagnoses), and even blood tests (to measure the oxygen levels in your blood).