What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (sometimes called CORD for chronic obstructive respiratory disease) and is an umbrella term for the diseases emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma. COPD affects hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, yet most have never even heard of it.

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 obstructed and the tissue inside the lungs is damaged, making it hard to breathe. With emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs are gradually destroyed so people have difficulty absorbing enough oxygen, while in chronic bronchitis the airways become narrower and have increased mucus production and inflammation.

Symptoms include coughing, increased phlegm and breathlessness. COPD progresses over time and though it is not curable, it can be controlled and further damage prevented. Most cases of COPD are caused by smoking, resulting in most people diagnosed over the age of 40. COPD is often undiagnosed, and for this reason at least 200,000 (or 15%) of the adult population may be affected. Even though a large proportion of COPD deaths are under-reported, COPD is still the fourth leading cause of death. The symptoms of COPD are similar to asthma, and some people may have both conditions, however in asthma, the narrowing of the airways is normally reversible whereas COPD is largely non-reversible.

For the latest statistics on COPD in New Zealand, click here.

Don't forget to breathe is a guide for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Download your free copy.

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