COPD is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time.

The rate of progression varies considerably, depending on the individual and the type of disease involved. Treatments and lifestyle changes can significantly affect how quickly COPD progresses.

According to the American Lung Association, more than 15 million people in the United States have a COPD diagnosis, and many more likely have the disease without realizing it.

All forms of COPD adversely affect the lungs and cause breathing problems. However, the exact physiology and the type of lung damage can vary.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are commonly involved in COPD. Both tend to develop later in life, due to factors such as tobacco smoking. They generally involve a progressive decline that results in premature death.

Refractory asthma can also be a form of COPD. This type of asthma is severe and irreversible — it does not respond to medications that typically treat asthma.


All types of COPD cause similar signs and symptoms, but these can vary in severity. Symptoms of COPD commonly flare up, becoming more severe, from time to time.

Typical symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • coughing
  • increased mucus production
  • fatigue

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