Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, an increased effort to breathe, heaviness or a ‘need for air’, excessive mucus, and a chronic cough. Some people feel like they are gasping for breath. Not everyone has all of these symptoms and some people have different combinations of symptoms to other people. These symptoms get worse when exercising, when you have a respiratory infection or during an exacerbation (a period of time when there is a sudden increase in symptoms and the disease is worse). COPD affects the ability to breathe. It is a progressive disease, which means that COPD gets worse over time and may lead to death. This means that, over time, the ability to breathe is affected and, because of this, daily activities may become more difficult as the disease worsens.

COPD is known by many alternative names, including: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive bronchitis, chronic airflow limitation, chronic airflow obstruction, chronic airways obstruction, chronic obstructive airways disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, non-reversible obstructive airways disease. COPD affects the several different parts of the respiratory system, in other words, the airways and lungs. It is described as a multi-component disease because it results in changes in several different parts of the respiratory system at the same time.

What is the impact of COPD on Europe?

COPD is a progressive disease that affects almost 4-10% of all adults in European countries. Currently ranked at number 6 of the WHO’s mortality list, it will be the 3rd leading cause of death by 2020 but it is still an unknown disease to most people.[1] COPD accounts for almost half of the total annual financial burden of lung disease in Europe of 102 billion EUR. In addition, COPD accounts for more time off work than any other illness and each year it is estimated that 32.8 billion EUR are lost due to reduced productivity of COPD patients.[2] COPD is classic example of a disease where co-morbidities are frequent, such as diabetes and heart disease; in fact, COPD affects all organs because a lack of oxygen causes heart disease, which may often be a patients’ final cause of death.
Early detection and correct diagnosis are fundamental to guarantee a timely, effectiveproper treatment and preventive plan that can help patients to properly manage the disease in their life and cope with unexpected situations.


COPD patient associations in your own language:


Belgique/België – FARES
Česká republika – České iniciativy pro astma o.p.s. (ČIPA)
България – България – Асоциация на Българите Боледуващи от Астма
Danmark – Astma-Allergi Forbundet
España – Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Enfermedades Respiratorias (FENAER)
France – Fédération Française des Associations et Amicales d’Insuffisants Respiratoires (FFAAIR)
Ελλάδα -Áνοιξη
Italy – Associazione Italiana Pazienti BPCO AIP-BPCO
Lietuva –Lietuvos Astmos Klubų Taryba, Astmos pacientų klubų asociacija
Nederland – Astmafonds, Vereniging Nederlands Davos (VND)
Norge – Norges Astma- og Allergiforbund (NAAF)
Österreich – Österreichische Lungenunion
Polska –Polska Federacja Stowarzyszeń Chorych na Astmę, Allergię i POChP
Suomi – Hengitysliitto Heli
Slovenije Društvo pljučnih in alergijskih bolnikov Slovenije
SvenskaHjärt- och Lungsjukas Riksförbund
Suisse/SchweizLungenliga Schweiz
United Kingdom – British Lung Foundation
Germany – Patientenliga Atemwegserkrankuungen
Portugal – RESPIRA


[1] In 2010, EFA launched its “Book on COPD in Europe – Sharing and Caring” and corresponding Call to Action for Europe at the European Parliament. Based on these documents, EFA organised two separate workshops on COPD at the European Parliament in 2011: the first on “Prevention and Diagnosis of COPD”, the second on “Care and research of COPD”.

Mariadelaide Franchi, EFA Book on COPD in Europe – Sharing and Caring, 2009, available here.

David Brennan, Antje Fink-Wagner, Susanna Palkonen, Policymakers to prevent Europe from suffocating – EU policy recommendations to curb the human and societal burden of COPD, in Journal of Paramedic Practice, April 2012 (in publicatio

[2] Mariadelaide Franchi, op. cit., note 3.n).

EFA eZine Archive