COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is a term used for a number of conditions including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
The disease leads to damaged airways in the lungs, causing them to become narrower and making it harder for air to get in and out.
The word ‘chronic’ means that the problem is long-term.
The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Once you give up smoking, you gradually reduce the chances of getting COPD - and you slow down its progress if you already have it.
Occupational factors, such as coal dust, and some inherited problems can also cause COPD.
Cough, phlegm and shortness of breath can be symptoms.
Some people may only notice their symptoms in winter, or they might put them down to bronchitis or ‘smoker’s cough’.
This means that they might not seek help at an early stage of the disease.
The sooner people seek treatment the better.
The best way to confirm diagnosis is through spirometry. This is a simple breathing test which you can usually do at your GP’s surgery. You just have to blow into a machine. This will indicate whether your airways have narrowed. In some cases you may need more detailed tests and a referral to hospital.