COPD is one of the most common chronic diseases worldwide and, according to the World Health Organization WHO, is one of the three most frequent causes of death. Nevertheless, the disease is comparatively little known.

Unfortunately, there is currently no method for COPD to cure the disease completely. However, there are numerous techniques and exercises to influence the course of the disease more favourably and to maintain mobility and independence for as long as possible.

Here you will find – exclusively compiled by our medical team – scientifically founded and easy to understand answers to many questions concerning life with COPD.

We want to provide all the with information regarding definitions, symptoms, causes, diagnoses and treatments of COPD that are relevant to you.

What is COPD

COPD is the abbreviation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

The official definition of the World Health Organization is:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible.”

This means that COPD is incurable and that the disease worsens over time.

Obstruction, i.e. narrowing of the respiratory tract, also occurs. This is mainly caused by two factors:

  1. Inflammation of the smaller airways due to the accumulation of inflammatory secretions: chronic bronchitis. 
  2. The destruction of functional lung tissue, leading to what is known as pulmonary emphysema.

These two dominant diseases, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, do occur simultaneously in many patients, but to varying degrees.

About a quarter to half of all COPD patients have a chronic inflammation of the widely ramified airways – bronchitis. According to the definition of the World Health Organization WHO, chronic bronchitis occurs when a patient suffers from coughing and sputum for at least three months for at least two consecutive years.

The word emphysema means something like “blown in”. In emphysema, the small alveoli at the end of the airways – where oxygen exchange takes place – have been damaged and persistently enlarged. However, the alveoli are not only enlarged, they also permanently lose their elasticity. And since the lungs can then no longer contract or can only contract to a limited extent, it becomes more difficult for affected patients to exhale completely. In a way, the lungs behave like an old, brittle elastic band.

Causes of COPD

The inflammation behind COPD – and this is now undisputed – is caused by the inhalation of pollutants. The most important pollutant is tobacco smoke.

Other pollutants that are proven to lead to COPD:
  • Passive inhalation of tobacco smoke (passive smoking)
  • Chemicals, dust and air pollution at the workplace
  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Prolonged exposure to polluted air (e.g. cooking over an open fire)
  • Prolonged exposure to biofuel exhaust gases

Furthermore, a genetic deficiency, the so-called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, can promote the development of COPD in adults.

COPD diagnosis and classification into gold stages

If you are suspected of having COPD due to the symptoms, the next step is to perform a lung function examination. The results of lung function and gas exchange determine the diagnosis and the gold stage (from I to IV) you are classified in.

In addition, physicians use medically proven questionnaires to better assess the severity of COPD and the loss of quality of life. More information can be found here:

Symptoms of COPD

COPD is characterized by the the three leading symptomes shortness of breath, cough and sputum.

Shortness of breath (= Dyspnea) is the most common symptom of COPD. More than half COPD patients suffer daily from sometimes tormenting shortness of breath, which can occur regardless of disease severity.

As mentioned, many COPD patients have chronic bronchitis. Its most obvious symptom is persistent, severe cough with sputum. In contrast to dry, unproductive cough, coughs with sputum are called productive coughs.

Sputum can look very different from patient to patient. It contains water, cells, possible foreign particles, microorganisms and can be whitish, yellowish, greenish, reddish, greyish or brownish. Depending on the appearance, the root cause of the cough can be guessed. Read more about it here:

COPD disease progression

Wie der Name schon besagt, ist die COPD eine chronische und fortschreitende Erkrankung. Gewebezerstörungen und ein ausgebildetes Lungenemphysem sind nicht mehr rückgängig zu machen. Hierzulande gehört die COPD sogar zu den zehn häufigsten Todesursachen und sowohl in Deutschland, als auch in den USA steigen die Zahlen.

As the name suggests, COPD is a chronic and progressive disease. Tissue destruction and pulmonary emphysema are irreversible. In many countries, COPD is even one of the ten most frequent causes of death and figures are rising in both Europe and the United States.

In some cases the situation of patients can deteriorate abruptly. This is called exacerbation and has to be taken seriously. Already more than one exacerbation per year can lead to being categorized in a higher group of gold stages (classification of the severity of COPD), which is accompanied by a worse prognosis of the course of the disease.

The individual course of COPD is largely dependent on the diagnosis being made early and the disease being treated correctly. One of the most important goals of the therapy is to prevent exacerbations and to still have a certain buffer of lung performance in the case of an exacerbation. Exacerbations can significantly accelerate the course of the disease. They worsen the lungs normal breathing capacity and thus also the quality of life.

Therapy and medication for COPD

Doctors prescribe medication for COPD to relieve symptoms and to reduce severity and frequency of exacerbations and thus improve quality of life and physical performance. In the modern treatment of COPD, several different drugs are combined. Make sure that your medicinal intake is integrated into everyday life and that you know how to use your inhaler properly.

In addition, COPD patients should be vaccinated against pneumococcus and against influenza every year.

Non-pharmacological therapy

The most efficient and therefore most important measure in the fight against COPD is smoking cessation. However, pulmonary rehabilitation also leads to significant improvement and is even the most effective therapeutic measure to reduce dyspnea and improve exercise capacity and quality of life.

 COPD can therefore be positively influenced by exercise training and changes in lifestyle! 

By the way, COPD therapy doesn’t just have to be a nuisance. Alternative and fun methods such as playing didgeridoo or specific COPD singing exercises can also be included. You can find out more about this here:

A structured and easy way to pulmonary rehabilitation is also offered by the Kaia COPD App. This app helps COPD patients to improve their quality of life and physical performance as well as to reduce respiratory distress.

Take control of your own life!