Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic disease characterized by shortness of breath, cough and sputum production. While symptoms of the disease do not usually appear in people younger than age 55 years, changes to the lung begin many years earlier. COPD is an umbrella term for a number of diseases which include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD progresses slowly over a period of years. Increasing disease severity is associated with more frequent exacerbations, further reductions in airflow and premature death. As the disease advances, shortness of breath limits the activity levels of individuals and reduces their quality of life.

Risk Factors

Several modifiable risk factors contribute to COPD. In 80% to 90% of COPD cases, cigarette smoking is the principal underlying cause. The contribution of primary smoking is very clearly established, and exposure to second-hand smoke likely also plays an important, although less well defined, role. Another important risk factor is occupational exposure to dusts (e.g., coal dust, grain dust) and some fumes. Exposure to non-specific dust is likely to add to the effect of smoking. Outdoor air pollution is associated with increased symptoms among those with COPD, including shortness of breath. Repeated childhood respiratory tract infections and childhood exposure to second-hand smoke lead to reduced levels of respiratory function, which may predispose a person to COPD. A genetic deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin, an anti-protease which protects the lung tissue from damage, is also associated with an increased risk of COPD.

Initiatives, Strategies, Systems and Programs

National Lung Health Framework

The National Lung Health Framework is a 'Made in Canada' action plan developed by and for a wide range of stakeholders working to improve lung health. Its coordinated approach to the prevention and management of respiratory diseases, including asthma, will have a significant positive impact on the state of lung health in Canada.

Page details

Date modified: