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. The more familiar terms 'chronic bronchitis' and 'emphysema' are no longer used, but are now included within the COPD diagnosis. COPD is not simply a "smoker's cough" but an under-diagnosed, life-threatening lung disease.
The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, or a 'need for air', excessive sputum production, and a chronic cough. Daily activities, such as walking up a short flight of stairs, may become very difficult as the disease worsens.
A COPD diagnosis is confirmed by a simple test called spirometry, which measures how deeply a person can breathe and how fast air can move into and out of the lungs. Because COPD develops slowly, its is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 40 years or older.
COPD is preventable, but not curable. Treatment can help slow disease progression, but COPD generally worsens over time.
The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke (including second-hand or passive exposure). Other risk factors include:
The most important measure for preventing COPD and for stopping disease progression is avoiding tobacco smoke (including passive exposure). Although COPD cannot be cured, appropriate management can control symptoms, slow disease progression and enable people to enjoy good quality of life.
WHO recognizes that COPD is of major public health importance.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic, with the aim to protect billions of people from the devastating impact of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. It is the first global health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization, and has been ratified by more than 140 countries.
WHO also leads the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD), which is a voluntary alliance of national and international organizations, institutions, and agencies working towards the common goal of improving global lung health. Its vision is a world where all people breathe freely. GARD promotes an integrated approach that capitalizes upon synergies of chronic respiratory diseases with other chronic diseases. GARD focuses specifically on the needs of low and middle income countries and vulnerable populations. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (GOLD) is part of GARD.
WHO’s work on COPD is part of the overall WHO chronic disease prevention and control work of the Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion. The strategic objectives of the Department are to raise awareness about the global epidemic of chronic diseases; create healthy environments, especially for poor and disadvantaged populations; slow and reverse trends in common chronic disease risk factors such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity; and prevent premature deaths and avoidable disability due to major chronic diseases.