What are COPD Causes?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2020
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COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a common lung disease that causes breathing to become difficult. The most common cause for this condition is cigarette smoking, although other COPD causes may include secondhand smoke, air pollutants, or a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin. Symptoms often include shortness of breath, fatigue, or the development of frequent respirator infections. COPD does not have a cure, although prescription medications are often useful in treating individual symptoms associated with this condition. In severe cases, surgical intervention, such as a lung transplant, may be a necessary treatment option.

Of all of the potential COPD causes, cigarette smoking is the most common. Cigarette smoking can cause irritation to the lungs, which may then lead to inflammation. This lung inflammation can break down the elastic fibers found in the lungs and cause damage to these sensitive organs. Fortunately, if the patient decides to stop smoking, the decline in lung function may slow to the same rate as that of a person who does not smoke. Scientific evidence suggests that secondhand cigarette smoke may be another of the possible COPD causes.


Air pollution may be among the potential COPD causes. While the link to COPD and outdoor air pollution is still being studied, it is at least thought to aggravate COPD, even if it is not among the direct COPD causes. On the other hand, indoor air pollutants have been shown to be among the possible COPD causes. Examples of these indoor pollutants include the use of indoor cooking stoves in non-industrialized parts of the world.

Occupational pollutants are considered to be COPD causes for some people. Certain occupations involve a naturally higher risk of developing lung disorders such as COPD due to the frequency of the employees inhaling potentially hazardous substances. Some of these occupations include coal miners, construction workers, and metal workers.

A rare genetic disease known as alpha-1 antitrypsin, or AAT, may be one of the contributing COPD causes. While this condition is rare, it is a very well-established cause of COPD. AAT is responsible for a missing protein that causes some of the lung tissues to be destroyed, leading to a variety of lung problems, including COPD. Blood tests can generally confirm the presence of this disease, although there is no cure, and treatment relies on addressing specific symptoms. In cases of severe lung damage, a lung transplant may become necessary.



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