What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (sometimes called CORD for chronic obstructive respiratory disease). COPD affects hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, yet most have never even heard of it. Around 15% of adults aged over 45 years live with COPD and it is the fourth leading cause of death in New Zealand.

Illustration courtesy of healthflexhhs.com

When we breathe, air travels from our nose and mouth down through our airways to our lungs. In people with COPD, the airways are permanently damaged, making it harder to breathe. COPD is an umbrella term for the conditions emphysema, chronic bronchitis and long-standing asthma. While these conditions can all have similar symptoms, they have different effects on the lungs:

  • Chronic bronchitis is ongoing inflammation of the bronchi (airways in your lungs). Due to the inflammation, the airways produce extra mucus. This can cause you to cough more and make it hard to breathe.
  • Emphysema is where the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) are damaged. Over time, the walls of air sacs are destroyed, creating larger spaces. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and makes the lungs less efficient.
  • Long-standing asthma is a term used for those who have more persistent symptoms of their asthma all the time. Those who have long-standing asthma often have a persistent, dry cough, inflammation of the airways and are trouble with shortness of breathe.

People with COPD will often have a mixture of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and some will also have long-standing asthma.

COPD symptoms include coughing, increased mucus, breathlessness and chest infections. COPD gets worse over time and the damage in the airways cannot be repaired. However, further damage can be prevented, and treatments can reduce breathlessness, improve quality of life and help people to live longer. The main cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, and most people diagnosed are aged over 40 years old.

Useful Resources

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Copd Action Plans Cover

COPD Action Plan

This self-management plan for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is to be completed by healthcare practitioners, together with their patient. These personalised action plans improve quality of life for patients and focus on recognising and treating deteriorating symptoms. Available in English, te reo Māori, Samoan, Tongan and Simplified Chinese

Copd Action Plan Te Reo

COPD Action Plan - Te Reo Māori

This is a brochure containing a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Action Plan for doctors to complete together with their patients.

Breathlessness Strategies For Copd Cover

Breathlessness Strategies for COPD

Breathlessness is a major symptom in COPD. This comprehensive document outlines various strategies and techniques to help manage breathlessness.