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National Health Observances

COPD Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Complications

November 7, 2021

What are the symptoms of COPD? 

Symptoms of COPD include: 

  • Frequent coughing or wheezing. 

  • Excess phlegm, mucus, or sputum production. 

  • Shortness of breath. 

  • Trouble taking a deep breath. 


Who has COPD? 

Chronic lower respiratory disease, primarily COPD, was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2018.1 Almost 15.7 million Americans (6.4%) reported that they have been diagnosed with COPD.2 More than 50% of adults with low pulmonary function were not aware that they had COPD,3 so the actual number may be higher. The following groups were more likely to report COPD in 2013.2 

  • Women. 

  • People aged 65 to 74 years and ≥75 years. 

  • American Indians/Alaska Natives and multiracial non-Hispanics. 

  • People who were unemployed, retired, or unable to work. 

  • People with less than a high school education. 

  • People who were divorced, widowed, or separated. 

  • Current or former smokers. 

  • People with a history of asthma. 


What are the complications or effects of COPD? 

Compared to adults without COPD, those with this disease are more likely to: 

  • Have activity limitations like difficulty walking or climbing stairs.2,8,9 

  • Be unable to work.2,8 

  • Need special equipment like portable oxygen tanks.2 

  • Not engage in social activities like eating out, going to places of worship, going to group events, or getting together with friends or neighbors.9 

  • Have increased confusion or memory loss.8 

  • Have more emergency room visits or overnight hospital stays.10 

  • Have other chronic diseases like arthritis, congestive heart failure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, or asthma.10,11 

  • Have depression or other mental or emotional conditions.10,11 

  • Report a fair or poor health status.12