What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the medical term used to describe forms of serious lung conditions that cause the airways to narrow, become obstructive, and inflamed, which in turn makes breathing difficult. 

384 million people worldwide are affected by COPD. It is the third leading cause of death among heart disease and stroke.

When the term is broken down, you can see how the definition gets its meaning:

Chronic refers to it being a long-term and ongoing condition that won’t go away

Obstructive refers to the fact that the airways in your lungs have narrowed and become obstructed

Pulmonary means that it’s a condition that affects your lungs

Disease reflects the fact that it’s a recognized medical condition. 

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a common condition. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are about 251 million cases of COPD worldwide. Figures suggest that by 2030, COPD could become the third leading cause of death in the world. 

If you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, it gradually becomes harder to breathe. If left untreated, the condition worsens, and your risk of hospital admission increases. It can be life-threatening, too. Although the damage to your lungs can’t be reversed, treatment, medication, and lifestyle adjustments can help you learn to manage it more effectively. 

Symptoms of COPD

What are the symptoms of COPD?

The symptoms include:

  • Getting easily breathless when you’re active, such as when working or doing housework 
  • A persistent chesty cough with phlegm
  • Frequent chest infections
  • Wheezing, especially in cold weather

The symptoms might occur all the time, or they may get worse at certain times, such as if you have an infection or breathe in secondhand smoke or fumes. 

Other symptoms of COPD

It’s also possible to experience other symptoms with COPD, especially when the disease becomes more severe, or you have other health issues, or comorbidities, too. 

Some examples of other less common symptoms include:

  • Tiredness and lack of energy 
  • Increasing breathlessness with any activity
  • Swollen ankles, legs and feet, which is caused by a build-up of fluid (this is known as oedema)
  • Losing weight unintentionally 
  • Experiencing chest pain
  • Coughing up blood – although this can be a sign of something else, so more tests may be required to rule out other conditions. 

If you have COPD and your symptoms worsen, or you’re unsure if something is linked to COPD or not, see a doctor for advice.

What are the early warning signs of COPD?

COPD develops slowly over many years, so it’s not unusual to be unaware you have it. You may assume that being slightly out of breath is merely due to getting older or being unfit, when in fact the cause could be COPD. The signs and symptoms are more likely to become apparent when you’re older, with most people being diagnosed when they’re in their 50s. 

Causes of COPD

What is the main cause?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease develops due to long-term damage to the lungs that causes them to become inflamed, obstructed and narrowed. Some of the main causes of COPD include:

  • Smoking or a history of smoking
  • Exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust, fumes or chemicals at work
  • Age – COPD tends to develop after the age of 35
  • A family history of chronic lung disease
  • Frequent childhood chest infection that may scar the lungs.

COPD can also be caused by a rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, which makes people susceptible to COPD at a younger age. 

Contrary to some assumptions, there are more factors involved in COPD than simply exposure to smoke. Not all smokers, even heavy smokers, develop COPD, and nearly one third of cases occur in people who’ve never smoked. Recent research suggests that having small airways relative to the size of the lungs could predispose people to a lower breathing capacity and an increased risk of COPD. 

How do you get COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) happens when our airways and lungs become damaged and inflamed. It makes the airways narrower, leading to breathing difficulties. The damage is usually caused by long-term exposure to irritants in the air. There’s sadly no cure, but COPD can be treated so that people can live well with the condition.    


Whether or not a person develops COPD in their lifetime is influenced by a complex mix of their environment and genetic makeup. Although smoking is the main cause, not all smokers develop the condition. Indeed, fewer than half of all heavy smokers go on to have COPD.

Furthermore, people who have never smoked can still develop COPD. We don’t know for certain why non-smokers can get COPD, but it appears the risks are higher as you get older if you have asthma, are a woman, or have a lower social and educational background. There’s recent evidence that suggests if your airways are naturally small for your lung size (called ‘dysanapsis’) you’re also at increased risk of COPD, even if you’ve never smoked.

Close up of woman's hand with cigarette in the street.
Close up of woman’s hand with cigarette in the street.

Air pollution

Household air pollution affects nearly three billion people globally. Burning fuel on open fires for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes can be one of the main causes. This may put people, particularly women, in many developing countries at greater risk of COPD.

We know that poor air quality in towns and cities can be harmful to our lungs, especially for people who already have heart or respiratory conditions. However, it’s not clear how that affects our chances of developing COPD, as more research is needed.

Fumes and dust in the workplace

Nearly 15% of the global impact of COPD is caused by workplace exposure. Some occupational dust and chemicals may cause COPD, especially if you breathe them in, including:

  • Cadmium dust and fumes
  • Grain and flour dust
  • Silica dust
  • Welding fuels
  • Isocyanates
  • Coal dust.


If you have a rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), you’re more likely to develop COPD. Alpha-1-antitrypsin is a chemical normally produced in the liver that protects our lungs from harmful substances and infections. People with AATD lack alpha-1-antitrypsin, and this can be the cause of COPD. You also might have COPD at a younger age and your COPD might progress more rapidly, especially if you smoke.

About one in 100 people with COPD have AATD. If you’ve been diagnosed with AATD, it’s not certain you’ll go on to develop COPD as well but there is a higher chance. If you smoke, it’s even more important to stop. Ask your doctor what other health and lifestyle measures you can take.  

Can a person with COPD get better?

There’s no overall cure for COPD and the lung damage can’t be reversed. However, a person with COPD can see an improvement in their symptoms, especially if diagnosed early, and further lung damage can be prevented. The key to getting better is finding the right treatment option to suit your stage of COPD and learning techniques to self-manage your symptoms. 

Associated Conditions

If you suffer from one or more of a group of lung diseases, it can lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Two of the most common conditions associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis, which inflames the airways, and emphysema, which damages the air sacs. 

  • Chronic bronchitis causes irritation and inflammation to the bronchial tubes – the tubes responsible for carrying air to and from your lungs. The tubes swell and produce a build-up of phlegm or mucus along the lining. Tiny hair-like structures in the tubes called cilia normally help move the mucus out of the airways, but the irritation from chronic bronchitis stops them. The build-up of mucus causes the tube’s opening to narrow and makes it harder to get air in and out of the lungs.  
  • Emphysema causes the walls of the tiny air sacs – called alveoli – to breakdown, which makes it difficult to breathe. The air sacs are located in the lower end of your lung, at the end of the bronchial tubes. They normally play a key role in transferring oxygen into your blood and filtering carbon dioxide back out. 

If you have chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both conditions, then you may be told you have COPD.  With multiple parts of the airways affected by the two lung conditions, from the bronchial tubes to the air sacs, it’s no wonder the lung damage can make it increasingly difficult to breathe. 

COPD Diagnosis

If you experience persistent symptoms of COPD, especially if you feel short of breath after being active, are over 35, and have ever smoked, you should see your doctor. 

It’s not unusual to be unaware that you have COPD. Some people assume that early symptoms – such as shortness of breath – are due to age, being out of shape or asthma. Because of this, many people try to reduce their activities rather than seek medical advice. But as COPD can worsen, it’s important to get any unexpected symptoms checked out sooner rather than later. 

Your doctor will ask about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and can arrange for you to have a simple breathing test called spirometry. This test can help rule out other lung conditions, such as asthma (a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways). Spirometry measures your lung capacity and how quickly you can breathe air out. You may also have a chest X-ray, CT scan, or blood test to rule out other conditions and diagnose COPD.  

How prevalent is COPD?

COPD is an umbrella term for a group of lung conditions that cause the airways to become narrowed, so those with it find it difficult to breathe air out of their lungs. There’s no cure for COPD, but it can be treated so that symptoms can be managed. Important is COPD diagnosis.

Worldwide, around 300 million people have COPD. In Europe, around 5-10% of people have the condition, and in the UK, around 1.2 million people are diagnosed with it – although it’s estimated that a further 1.8 million people might be unaware that they are living with COPD. This is partly because COPD develops slowly over the years, so many people only start to recognize their symptoms in their 50s.

It’s estimated that around 70% of COPD cases remain undiagnosed globally. At the same time, however, between three and six people out of 10 are thought to be wrongly diagnosed with COPD.

What are the early warning signs for COPD?

The early signs of COPD are:

  • Increasing breathlessness
  • A chesty cough that produces phlegm and won’t go away
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent chest infections.

If you want to find out more about COPD, its causes, and its relationship with other conditions, such as asthma, read our guide here.

When should I see my doctor?

The early signs of COPD are:

  • Increasing breathlessness
  • A chesty cough that produces phlegm and won’t go away
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent chest infections.

Your symptoms might worsen for a short period (called a flare-up), particularly in the winter.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms persistently, especially if you’re over 35 years old and you smoke or used to smoke, see your family doctor for medical advice. 

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is often wrongly diagnosed as there are other conditions and diseases with similar symptoms, such as Bronchiectasis and asthma.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how they affect your daily life:

  • Breathlessness – is it persistent, has it worsened over time, is it worse if you exercise, at night or at other times?
  • Cough – does it come and go, does it produce phlegm, do you also wheeze?
  • Chest infections – how often do you get these?
  • Family/childhood history – do any of your close relatives have respiratory problems, how was your health as a baby and child?
  • Risk factors or exposures – are you a smoker or ex-smoker, does your job or home life bring you into contact with airborne pollution (e.g. dusts, vapours, fumes, gases, chemicals, smoke from home cooking or heating fuels)?
  • Other symptoms – have you had any weight loss, ankle swelling, fatigue, chest pain or coughing up blood? These are less common, especially in mild COPD, and might point to a different diagnosis.

They’ll also listen to your chest with a stethoscope, take into account your age and calculate your body mass index (BMI) from your height and weight. If your doctor suspects you have COPD you will need some tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.

What tests or investigations will I need?


This is a simple breathing test that measures how well your lungs are working. You’ll be asked to blow hard into a machine called a spirometer that measures the total volume of air that you can breathe out in one go, and also how quickly you can empty your lungs of air. The forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) will measure how much air you force out of your lungs, and use this to determine your results.

If you have COPD, your doctor will usually be able to diagnose it by assessing your signs and symptoms alongside your spirometry results. People with COPD have obstructed airways so they have a reduced FEV1. Doctors classify COPD into four stages – Mild, Moderate, Severe and Very Severe – depending on how reduced your FEV1 spirometry score is for your age.

If you reach 80% of your predicted FEV1 value, this will fall into mild COPD, between 50-79% would be considered moderate, between 30-49% would be severe and less than 30% would be very severe.

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray doesn’t diagnose COPD, but it may reveal other lung problems that have similar symptoms, such as a chest infection or lung cancer.

Blood tests

These may be needed to rule out iron deficiency (anaemia), a high red blood cell concentration (polycythaemia) and a rare genetic disorder called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Additional tests

Occasionally further tests are needed:

  • Sputum culture – to look for infection
  • Peak flow monitoring – to exclude asthma
  • Electrocardiography and serum natriuretic peptides or echocardiography – to check your heart
  • Chest CT scan – to look for other lung conditions such as bronchiectasis, fibrosis or lung cancer
  • Pulse oximetry – measures the oxygen level in your blood
  • Transfer factor for carbon monoxide
  • Spirometric reversibility testing – if the diagnosis is still uncertain.

Treatment for COPD

Although there’s no outright cure for COPD, it can be managed and treated to stop further damage to your lungs and improve your symptoms. 

There is a range of COPD treatments you can do and behaviors you can adopt to help stop it from progressing – helping you to live well with the condition. Your doctor will work closely with you to develop a personalized self-management plan to cover daily living and what to do if you start to feel worse.

Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Inhaled medicines called bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around the airways
  • Steroids are given via an inhaler to reduce swelling in your airways
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation a prescribed exercise program with a physiotherapist to help you learn to breathe more easily
  • For severe cases and if you have low blood oxygen levels, oxygen therapy via a home unit or small portable tank 
  • If other treatments don’t work and your COPD is very severe, you may be offered surgery to remove damaged pieces of your lungs or improve airflow.

In addition, there are practical steps you can take to adjust your lifestyle habits and self-manage your symptoms. These include:

  • Taking regular exercise to improve your breathing
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Practising breathing exercises to increase your lung capacity
  • Taking prescribed medication regularly
  • Avoiding potential triggers such as traffic fumes, tobacco smoke, or dust
  • Quitting smoking
  • Using a damp cloth to wet dust your home and remove dust particles. 

COPD can also put you at higher risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s important to follow the government guidance, avoid crowded places, wear a face covering, keep your distance and wash your hands often to reduce your risk of catching coronavirus. Having an annual flu vaccination can also help reduce your risk of catching the flu. Find out more about COPD and COVID. 

How are COPD flare-ups treated?

COPD flare-ups or COPD exacerbations are occasions when symptoms worsen and become more severe. COPD exacerbation can occur due to exposure to triggers such as pollution, secondhand smoke or an infection. 

COPD flare-ups are treated with a flare-up plan – a treatment plan drawn up by your doctor. Depending on your individual symptoms and treatment needs, your flare-up plan may include taking antibiotics or steroids to reduce your symptoms. With severe flare-ups, hospitalization may be required. 

COPD Management

When you are diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), it’s important to know how to manage your condition. Although there’s no cure for COPD, good management can help to slow its progression, reduce the risk of exacerbations and keep symptoms under control.

How is COPD managed?

COPD is typically managed with a range of treatments and healthy lifestyle changes. There are different stages of COPD, so the treatments and management plan recommended for you may well be slightly different to someone diagnosed with a milder or more severe case of COPD.

COPD treatments

Some of the typical COPD treatments that may be prescribed include:

  • Inhaled medicines called bronchodilators, which help relax the muscles around your airways
  • Steroid inhalers to reduce swelling in your airways
  • Oxygen therapy if you have low blood oxygen levels
  • A pulmonary rehabilitation program to help you learn to breathe more easily.

In severe cases, and if other treatments don’t work, surgery to remove damaged parts of your lungs may be suggested.

Breath management exercises for COPD

Breathlessness is a key symptom of COPD, and so learning breathing techniques and breath management exercises can help you manage it more effectively. Exercises such as the pursed lip or diaphragmatic techniques are worth practicing regularly. They can help strengthen the muscles you use for breathing and boost your self-confidence, so you’ll know how to handle things if symptoms do occur.

Exercising with COPD

It may seem difficult to exercise with COPD, but regular exercise can help to alleviate some of your symptoms and is an important element of your COPD management. Activities such as walking, cycling, or strength exercises are beneficial to you physically, but also good for your emotional wellbeing too.

Practicing breathing exercises will put you in good stead for doing more physical activities, as you’ll become more adept at breathing appropriately for your needs and it will improve how much exercise you’re able to do.

COPD diet

Like many other health conditions, eating a healthy nutritious diet is beneficial. If you’re overweight, you may find you become more breathless and so losing weight can help. Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise can help with both losing and maintaining weight.

Emotional wellbeing

Living with COPD can put a strain on your mental and emotional wellbeing, and it can be difficult for friends or family to see you unwell. Constantly dealing with the symptoms of COPD, such as coughing and breathlessness, can wear you out and leave you feeling anxious, depressed, or low. In turn, this can make you less likely to be active, which can have an impact on your physical symptoms.

It’s important to look after yourself and take time to practice self-care. Make time to focus on yourself, be it reading a book, watching a film, or going out for a coffee. Talk to other people about how you feel and consider finding a local or online support group to join. Talking to a counselor can also help. You do not need to manage COPD alone.

Vaccinations and COPD

COPD can increase your vulnerability to infection and make it harder to fight them off. It’s important to have the annual flu jab, pneumococcal vaccination (a one-off), and COVID-19 vaccinations. If you’re not automatically invited to have them, speak to your family doctor.

What is a COPD management plan?

A COPD management plan is a guide to how to manage your condition on a day-to-day basis. When you’re diagnosed, it’s likely that your doctor and medical team will help you put together a self-management plan, so that you can understand the basics of how best to manage the condition.

A COPD management plan is tailored to your own needs and will vary according to the stage at which your COPD is at. That’s one reason why it’s important to have regular medical checks and reviews, so your progress can be monitored and your management plan adjusted.

Your plan should include prescribed medications, breathing exercises, and diet and exercise best practice, and emotional support. Another key part of a COPD management plan is to avoid potential triggers where possible. This helps reduce the risk of symptoms worsening or causing flare-ups.

Some of the common triggers for COPD symptoms are exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, traffic fumes, smoking tobacco, and dust. If you currently smoke, then it’s advisable to quit smoking to help your COPD. Research has found that stopping smoking can reduce the risk of hospitalization for COPD patients.

What is the best treatment for severe COPD?

There’s no single best treatment for severe COPD – the treatment your doctor recommends will depend entirely on your individual symptoms and circumstances, and your treatment will be tailored to your requirements. For severe COPD, you’re likely to require a combination of treatments, rather than a single treatment.

In severe cases of COPD, surgery is sometimes required to remove damaged parts of the lung, allowing the healthier parts to work better. In a small number of cases, a lung transplant may be an option.

It’s important that you stick to the prescribed routine and schedule with whatever medications you’re prescribed, as that will give you the best chance of easing symptoms and avoiding hospitalization.

What is the latest treatment for COPD?

Research into COPD is ongoing and as new treatments are found, they gradually become available to try. It takes time for new treatments to be approved, although you may be able to access a clinical trial. Speak to your doctor about what is available in your region and whether you are a suitable candidate.


One of the newer add-on bronchodilator treatments for severe COPD patients is Roflumilast, which can help with chronic bronchitis and a history of frequent exacerbations. It is administered in the form of tablets and helps to reduce inflammation in the airways and lungs.

Valve surgery
Endobronchial valve surgery is a new form of surgical intervention aimed at people who have severe emphysema. It involves putting tiny Zephyr® valves in the airways to block off the parts of the lungs that are damaged. This procedure can help reduce the pressure on your diaphragm, help the healthier parts of your lungs to work more efficiently, and reduce breathlessness.

In the future, it’s likely that biologic drugs for COPD may become commonplace. Biologics are drugs made from or containing biological sources and can help to treat and prevent inflammation in the airways. Research is ongoing into the effectiveness of biologic treatment for COPD.

Find out how to better manage your COPD through treatments and exercises.

COPD Exercises

For people with COPD , exercising may not always seem easy but not exercising at all can make things worse. In fact, there are a variety of breathing exercises you can do that could help alleviate COPD symptoms, boost the strength of your lungs, and help improve your ability to do daily activities and physical exercise.

What are the benefits of exercise for COPD?

When you’re diagnosed with COPD , it’s easy to fall into a cycle of inactivity. You may avoid activities that make you feel breathless or worry about how you’ll cope if you experience breathing difficulties whilst exercising. However, not exercising or doing physical activity can cause more harm.

  • Reduced activity will result in your muscles becoming weaker. Having weak muscles means that your body will need to work harder and use more oxygen to operate. In turn, this can make you feel more breathless.

If you remain active, learn breathing methods, and do COPD-friendly exercises, this should have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing:

  • Your muscles will become stronger, including the muscles involved in breathing – you’ll get less breathless when you move, it will be easier to be active.
  • Regular exercise can also help you maintain or lose weight, which can be important for those with COPD.
  • Physical activity can help you feel better mentally too. It can have a positive impact on self-confidence and help keep you motivated to continue with good lifestyle habits.

Breathing exercises for COPD

Breathing exercises are particularly beneficial for COPD as they help to improve and strengthen your lungs and put you in a better position for trying more physical forms of exercise. Breathing exercises help to strengthen the muscles you use for breathing, enabling you to get more oxygen and breathe more easily with less effort.

There are several breathing techniques and methods, and you don’t have to choose just one to help you manage your COPD. Some studies have found that combining the techniques and practicing several methods can have improved benefits for COPD symptoms.

Pursed lip breathing for COPD

Pursed lip breathing is a simple and easy technique to learn. It helps slow down your breathing, making it easier for the lungs to function, and helps keep your airways open for longer. It can be practiced at any time and used to help regulate your breathing when exercising.

  • Sit or stand and breathe in slowly through your nose
  • Purse your lips, as if you were about to whistle
  • Breathe out as slowly as you can through your pursed lips and aim to blow out for twice as long as you breathed in – it may help to count as you do this
  • Repeat the exercise five times, building up over time to doing 10 repetitions.

Diaphragmatic breathing for COPD

Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique where you aim to breathe from your diaphragm, rather than your upper chest. It’s often also called ‘breathing from your belly’. This technique helps to strengthen the muscles of the diaphragm, which are often weaker and less functional with COPD.

  • Sit or lie down comfortably and relax your body as much as possible
  • Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach
  • Inhale through your nose for up to five seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen and your stomach raise up – ideally, you should be able to feel your stomach move more than your chest does
  • Hold it for two seconds, then breathe out again for up to five seconds through your nose
  • Repeat the exercise five times.

Paced breathing for COPD

Paced breathing is an exercise to use while you’re active, such as when you’re walking or climbing stairs. The idea is that you pace your breathing to match your steps.

  • As you’re walking, count to yourself
  • Breathe in for one step, then take one or two steps as you breathe out
  • Find a pace of breathing and counting that works for you.

Breathing out hard or the ‘blow-as-you-go’ method for COPD

The breathing out hard technique is another technique to use when you’re being active as it can make it easier to cope with tasks that require effort.

  • Before you make the effort (such as standing up), breathe in
  • Whilst you’re making the effort, breathe out hard
  • You may find it easier to breathe out hard whilst pursing your lips.

What is the best exercise for someone with COPD?

There’s no single best exercise for someone with COPD, but there are plenty of good options you can try.

  • Walking. If you’ve not exercised for a while, walking is a good starting point, as it’s free to do and you can move at your own pace. Try going out for a short walk at least once a day and gradually build up how far you go. You could incorporate walking with other activities, such as shopping or attending medical appointments.
  • Tai chi. Gentle forms of exercise such as tai chi are ideal for COPD, as they focus on slow and flowing movements. Tai chi can help tone your muscles and ease stress and anxiety.
  • Cycling. Cycling on an exercise bike at home or at a gym can help build up strength in your legs, aid circulation and boost stamina.
  • Weights. Using hand weights to do arm curls is good to strengthen the muscles in your arms and upper body. If you don’t have weights, use filled water bottles or tins of canned fruit or vegetables instead.
  • Stretching. Simple movements and stretches are beneficial too – try forward arm raises, calf raises, leg extensions, or moving from sitting to standing positions. If you have limited movement, chair yoga is an option too.

If you need motivation to exercise, find an exercise buddy – or a friend who you can go for a walk with. Having company can help distract you from the fact that you’re exercising and may boost your confidence if you’re concerned about getting out of breath whilst on your own.

Before starting a new exercise regime, especially if you use oxygen, speak to your medical practitioner for advice. They may even recommend a structured pulmonary rehabilitation exercise program if your symptoms are severe.

How do you strengthen your lungs with COPD?

Being active can help to strengthen your lungs. COPD-appropriate exercises can help boost the strength of your breathing muscles and improve your circulation and your heart. When your muscles are stronger, it will help your body to use oxygen more efficiently, so you won’t end up getting so breathless in your daily life.

Can COPD be reversed with exercise?

Exercise alone is not powerful enough to reverse lung damage. However, exercise has been shown to help relieve COPD symptoms and improve your quality of life, which is why it’s highly beneficial for anyone with COPD to do.

Exercise can help improve your physical stamina and endurance, plus it can strengthen the muscles you use to breathe. When these muscles are stronger, you won’t need to use so much oxygen, which will help reduce your breathlessness during physical activity.

The key is to not stop exercising when your COPD symptoms improve, as stopping your level of activity could worsen symptoms again.

How to exercise easier with COPD

You can help yourself to exercise easier with COPD by using the following tips:

  • Learn to breathe slowly using the pursed lip breathing method during physical activity. If you’re doing activities that need a lot of effort, breathing out hard may be beneficial.
  • Whilst you’re exercising, make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid non-caffeinated drinks as they’re better for keeping the mucus in your airways thinner.
  • If you use oxygen and your medical practitioner has given you the go-ahead to exercise, you can make things easier for yourself by using some extra-long tubing on your tank. This can help give you more space and capacity for moving around, without the worry of falling over your tank. It’s also beneficial to use smaller travel-sized oxygen tanks whilst you’re active.

When to stop exercising

If your COPD symptoms – such as wheezing, breathlessness, or coughing – seem worse than usual, stop exercising. Likewise, if you feel dizzy or lightheaded, stop and have a break. Although exercise is important, it’s not good to push yourself to exercise when you’re not feeling well or your COPD symptoms are especially bad. Be sensible and, if you have any concerns about your symptoms, consult a medical practitioner.

You may also be interested in our guides to managing your COPD and COPD treatment.

How serious is COPD?

COPD is serious and can be life-threatening, especially if it’s not treated and managed properly. 

There are four stages which range from mild to very severe. At the very severe stage, any normal daily activities result in extreme breathlessness and your quality of life is adversely affected.  

  • Mild COPD – your airflow is slightly limited and you will have a cough and mucus sometimes, but won’t notice it much. 
  • Moderate COPD – your airflow is worse and you’ll often feel short of breath after being active. At this stage you’re likely to notice you’re experiencing symptoms and seek help and advice from your family doctor. 
  • Severe COPD – your shortness of breath and airflow is severe. You’ll frequently experience COPD exacerbation, where your symptoms flare up. 
  • Very severe COPD – you’ll be having regular bad flare-ups and your airflow is very limited. Your quality of life becomes poor due to extreme breathlessness. 

The sooner it is identified and diagnosed, the sooner treatment can be started, and symptoms managed. 

What is the life expectancy of people with COPD?

COPD is a serious medical condition, and it can become life-threatening. There are many factors involved in working out life expectancy – your doctor or medical professional will be able to advise you on your exact circumstances. 

As a guide, though, research suggests that severe and very severe COPD could be associated with a loss of life expectancy of about eight to nine years. 

If you suffer from one or more of a group of lung diseases, it can lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Two of the most common conditions associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis, which inflames the airways, and emphysema, which damages the air sacs. 

  • Chronic bronchitis causes irritation and inflammation to the bronchial tubes – the tubes responsible for carrying air to and from your lungs. The tubes swell and produce a build-up of phlegm or mucus along the lining. Tiny hair-like structures in the tubes called cilia normally help move the mucus out of the airways, but the irritation from chronic bronchitis stops them. The build-up of mucus causes the tube’s opening to narrow and makes it harder to get air in and out of the lungs.  
  • Emphysema causes the walls of the tiny air sacs – called alveoli – to break down, which makes it difficult to breathe. The air sacs are located in the lower end of your lung, at the end of the bronchial tubes. They normally play a key role in transferring oxygen into your blood and filtering carbon dioxide back out. 

If you have chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both conditions, you may be told you have COPD.  With multiple parts of the airways affected by the two lung conditions, from the bronchial tubes to the air sacs, it’s no wonder the lung damage can make it increasingly difficult to breathe. 

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