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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 


What is COPD?


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) includes two major lung diseases - emphysema and chronic bronchitis - and is primarily caused by smoking.  Tobacco smoke narrows the air passages and causes chronic swelling in the lungs, making breathing difficult.  For people with COPD, flare-ups or exacerbations (worsening symptoms) can be brought on by a cold or flu, or by something as simple as a change in weather or poor air quality.  These flare-ups can result in emergency room visits, hospitalizations and in some cases, death.


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Over 850,000 Ontarians (almost 12 per cent) aged 35 and older have COPD.1  Unfortunately, awareness about the disease, its symptoms and diagnostic testing remains low.  Most Ontarians don’t know what COPD is and fewer know what a spirometry test is. 

An effective way to help diagnose COPD is with a spirometry test --  a simple breathing test that calculates the amount of air that can be blown out of the lungs, and the rate at which it can be expelled.  Spirometry is particularly important in diagnosing COPD in the early (mild) stage.  Early detection has been shown to motivate people to quit smoking sooner, which can reduce disease progression.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can also make a difference in the lives of those living with COPD and other lung conditions by helping them focus on improving muscle strength, learn breathing techniques to cope with breathlessness and improve aerobic fitness.  The proven benefits for patients include reduced flare-ups and increased mobility. 

Who should get tested with spirometry?

The Canadian Thoracic Society COPD Guidelines recommend that a spirometry test be undertaken for all current and former smokers, 40 years of age and older, who show respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough with or without phlegm, wheezing, frequent long-lasting colds, and difficulty with regular activities like walking.

With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, patients with COPD should expect to experience less shortness of breath, better exercise tolerance, fewer hospitalizations and improved quality of life. Many people have learned how to manage their COPD and are living satisfying, relatively active lives.

Learning more about COPD is the first step to maintaining your health and regaining hope. For more information or to order free material about COPD call our toll free Lung Health Information Line - 1-866-717-COPD (2673) or visit our website at

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1   Quantifying health services use for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Gershon ASGuan JVictor JCGoldstein RTo TAm J Respir Crit Care Med. 2013 Mar 15;187(6):596-601. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201211-2044OC. Epub 2013 Jan 17.