Smoking And COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Although lung cancer is often the first thing people think about when they consider the health risks of smoking, COPD should not be overlooked. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a severe lung disease, which kills around 25,000 people every year in the UK. Around 80 per cent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking.

What is COPD?

COPD is an umbrella term, which covers a host of serious respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive airways disease, emphysema and chronic (long-term) bronchitis. This is a serious condition, which occurs when the airways narrow; this makes it harder to breathe and causes symptoms including breathlessness, recurrent chest infections and a chronic cough.

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD and the more you smoke, the higher your risk of developing symptoms. COPD is related to smoking because smoking causes damage to the lungs, which result in irritation and swelling. In the long-term, the airways become obstructed, mucus production increases and the lungs become scarred. The symptoms of COPD result from these changes; often, they get worse gradually and it is common to experience symptoms for several years before death from COPD. 

Who gets COPD?

COPD is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 35 years old; it is usually found in smokers, but may also affect those who are exposed to fumes and toxic gases in their working environment. It is thought that there are many people living with COPD who have not yet been diagnosed; the NHS estimates that around 3 million people in the UK have COPD, but less than a million cases have been diagnosed. COPD tends to be more common in men, but the number of women affected is increasing year on year. COPD is diagnosed based on symptoms; the earlier you seek advice, the better, as treatment can help to prevent the symptoms from getting worse. 

Treating COPD

There is no cure for COPD and it is not possible to repair the damage caused to the lungs; however, it is possible to slow the progress of symptoms and to make you feel more comfortable. Treatment options include medication and using an inhaler to help you breathe more easily. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended. 

Smoking is the main cause of COPD and giving up smoking will help to reduce your risk of developing this serious disease; if you would like advice about giving up smoking, contact your local GP surgery or call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 03001231004.

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