What is COPD?

Q: What is COPD and how do you get it?

A: COPD is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Most cases of COPD develop after long-term exposure to lung irritants that damage the lungs and the airways.

In the United States, the most common irritant that causes COPD is cigarette smoke. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke also can cause COPD, especially if the smoke is inhaled. Secondhand smoke—that is, smoke in the air from other people smoking, also can irritate the lungs and contribute to COPD.

Breathing in air pollution and chemical fumes or dust from the environment or workplace also can contribute to COPD.

In rare cases, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may play a role in causing COPD.

A physician will make the diagnosis based on a combination of personal history, radiographic studies, and pulmonary function testing.

From my personal experience caring for patients with end-stage COPD, the suffering is enough to make anyone snuff out their cigarettes for good.

Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting www.beekman1802.com.

Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at drbrent@care2.com.

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Aud Nordby
Aud nordby2 years ago


Val M.
Val M.2 years ago


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton3 years ago


Seda A.
Seda A.3 years ago


Darlene B.
Darlene W.3 years ago

So sad for this to happen. BLess everyone affected.

Darlene B.
Darlene W.3 years ago

So sad for this to happen. BLess everyone affected.

Katja S.
Katja S.3 years ago

My grandfather died from COPD (emphysema) and I have a friend who also has it. Watching my grandfather die was an experience I would not wish on anyone. I don't think my friends who smoke would want to carry on smoking if they had witnessed what damage it can do to your health and the pain it can cause to loved ones who have to watch you die. It is not pleasant to friends and family, and it certainly isn't pleasant to the sufferer.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C.4 years ago


Lori Pierce
.4 years ago

I live with COPD.From my own smoking yes,but also from the extreme heavy smoking of my parents before and after I was born and growing up.If you must smoke please take it where no one else is breathing the same air.