19 March 2015
- Healthcare


If you are reading this article because you or someone close to you live with COPD, do not worry, you are not alone. Approximately 5-10% of all adults in European countries that live with COPD.

What is COPD?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is not one single disease but an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases that cause limitations in lung airflow.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease that results in changes in several different parts of the respiratory system and lungs at the same time. It causes inflammation in the lungs, damages lung tissue and narrows the airways. Breathing becomes progressively worse.

 © European COPD Coalition

How does COPD affect my body and life?

COPD is not just simply a "smoker's cough", it affects the ability to breathe. The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, an increased effort to breathe, heaviness or a ‘need for air’, excessive mucus, chronic cough and fatigue although symptoms vary from person to person.

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). This is why at EFA we have launched #COPDMove, a video series of COPD patients' testimonials where they explain why daily exercise help them to live COPD through and feel better, physically and mentally. 

Over time, the ability to breathe is affected and, because of this, daily activities may become more difficult as the disease worsens. COPD patients experience difficulties when walking short distances, climbing stairs, or doing the shopping, because those activities boost the breathing ratio. But living well with COPD is possible with the right support.

When the disease reaches a high severity, patients might start receiving medical oxygen therapy, requiring oxygen tanks and a concentrator which reduces their mobility possibilities..


Who gets COPD?

COPD is usually caused by smoking. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that tobacco smoke is the primary cause of COPD. Lifelong smokers have a 50% probability of developing COPD during their lifetime but the risk of developing COPD falls by about half with smoking cessation.

COPD mainly affects people over the age of 40 and becomes more common with increasing age. The average age when it is formally diagnosed is around 67 years. It is currently more common in men than in women.

Early detection and correct diagnosis is fundamental to guarantee a timely, effective, correct treatment and preventive plan that can help patients to properly manage the disease in their life and cope with unexpected situations.

COPD is a classic example of a disease where co-morbidities, several diseases at the same time, 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.


What is the impact of COPD in Europe?

COPD is a progressive disease that affects approximately 5-10% of all adults in European countries. Currently ranked 4th of the World Health Organisation’s mortality list, it will be the 3rd leading cause of death by 2030.

However, COPD is still an unknown disease to most people. The good news is that patients can do a lot to prevent severe disease and have a good quality of life, when properly supported.

COPD accounts for almost half of the total annual financial burden of lung disease in Europe of 141.4 billion EUR. 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.

Who can help me?

We recommend you to visit a medical lung specialist (pulmonologist) as they have been prepared to deal with COPD. If you have some of the symptoms described above, visit your general practitioner or pulmonologist to go through a deep check-up that will include a spirometry test to analyse your lung capacity and therefore determine your condition.

You can also contact one of our Member associations in your home country, who will kindly respond to your questions in your own language and give you personalised advice.

You can also visit the “Know Your Air for Health” website, available in English, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish, that we have developed to inform patients with COPD about air quality.

To know more about our work on COPD, please visit our COPDMove project and medical oxygen campaign and the EU funded project AirPROM.


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The EFA Team