Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a progressive, largely irreversible disease of the lungs consisting primarily of two diseases, chronic bronchitis and emphysema (1, 4). Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema impair lung function, although the mechanisms differ. They are often difficult to distinguish from each other as they frequently occur together, have similar symptoms, and require similar treatments (2-3).

An estimated 10 million U.S. adults suffered from COPD in 2000, however the actual number suffering from COPD may be closer to 24 million, suggesting that COPD is largely underdiagnosed (1, 3, 4). According to 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System results, approximately 4.4% of Vermont adults ages 25 and older reported having COPD 1 (5).

COPD currently stands as the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and Vermont (1, 8). The mortality rate due to COPD 2 is consistently higher in Vermont than for the United States as a whole, however, largely due to an increasing US COPD mortality rate this difference has decreased in recent years(6, 7). Among the top five leading causes of death in the United States, only COPD is on the rise. COPD is expected to be the third leading cause of death in the United States by the year 2020(1, 8).

The single largest risk factor for COPD is cigarette smoking, with approximately 80 percent of cases attributable to smoking(1, 4). Occupational risk factors are also important to the development of COPD. These include: toxic chemicals (i.e. silica and cadmium), industrial smoke, dust, and other air particles (3). Also elevating the risk of COPD is the presence of asthma, allergies, poor nutrition, low birth weight, frequent childhood respiratory infections, periodontal disease, outdoor air pollutants, and genetic factors (3, 4). The single best prevention method remains smoking cessation.

If you have questions or would like more information concerning COPD contact:

Matthew Thomas, PhD
Public Health Analyst III
Tel: 951-0133


1. Mannino DM, Homa DM, Akinbami LJ, et al. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Surveillance – United States, 1971-2000. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2002;51:1-18.

2. "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)"  MD Consult . 29 July 2003

3. "Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease"  MD Consult . 29 July 2003 .

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Facts about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease"  National Center for Environmental Health: Air Pollution & Respiratory Health . 9 November 2002. 7 May 2003.

5. Vermont Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002.

6. Vermont Vital Statistics System, 1980-2000.

7. National mortality data was generated using the interactive CDC Wonder website.

8. Dixon , A. “What is COPD?” The Spirogram, The Vermont Lung Center. Spring 2002;1:2.

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