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COPD Statistics and What They Mean for You

When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to feel all alone, as though you’re the only you know who is dealing with the challenges. But, if the chronic illness you have is COPD, then you are most certainly not alone.

COPD statistics

I thought it might be useful to take a look at some of the facts and statistics about COPD. This is in hopes it will help you understand better what you’re up against and what you still have to look forward to.

What is COPD and who gets it?

COPD is an acronym that stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary (Lung) Disease. It is actually a blanket term for a group of chronic respiratory conditions. All of these conditions are progressive and affect air flow through your lungs. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two of the diseases included as COPD.

In all of these types of COPD, symptoms tend to come on slowly and then progress over years. Symptoms such as these are typical:1

  • Breathlessness, especially during activity
  • Chronic, hacking cough
  • Excess mucus production
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Frequent respiratory infections

More than 16 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COPD. Experts think that as many as 24 million more have COPD, but don’t know it yet.2 Around the world, we estimate there are 65 million people with COPD. In the U.S., it is most common in the Southeast and Midwest regions.3

There is no cure for COPD, but it is often preventable. The most common cause is smoking (90% of all cases), although not all smokers get COPD. In fact, only about 20% of smokers develop COPD.4 Secondhand smoke exposure also causes COPD.

Other people who may be at risk for COPD include:5

  • People with adult asthma
  • Those with sustained exposure to air pollution or dusts/chemicals on the job
  • People born with a genetic deficiency called alpha-1 antitrypsin, or AAT
  • Those who had frequent lower respiratory infections as children

Finally, women are 37% more likely to have COPD than men, especially before age 65. This is a change from past decades, when men were much more likely to have COPD.

Types and stages of COPD

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common, though not the only, types of COPD.

  • Almost 9 million Americans have chronic bronchitis, 75% of them over the age of 45
  • 3.5 million more have emphysema, 90% of over the age of 45
  • Twice as many women have chronic bronchitis as men
  • Fairly equal numbers of men and women have emphysema6

Chronic bronchitis is characterized by inflammation of the airways. In contrast, emphysema affects the small air sacs at the end of your lungs, which makes it hard for you to get enough oxygen in and out.

To get an idea of the severity of COPD, doctors tend to classify according to these levels:7

  • Stage I (Mild)–Symptoms still mild enough to not be interfering greatly with daily life; lungs working at about 80% capacity
  • Stage II (Moderate)–Symptoms severe enough to be interfering with daily activities; lungs working at about 50-80% capacity
  • Stage III (Severe)–Serious breathing problems interfering with quality of life; lungs working between 30-50% capacity
  • Stage IV (Very Severe or End Stage)–Symptoms almost constant; frequent infections and/or flare-ups requiring emergency care; lungs working at less than 30% capacity

Your COPD outlook

While it’s true that COPD is not curable, it is very treatable. With early detection and the proper treatment, it is possible to live a quality life for many years after diagnosis with COPD.

However, more than 150,000 Americans die from COPD each year, and it is the fourth leading cause of death.8 Smoking is linked to 90% of COPD deaths. In fact, men who smoke are 26 times more likely to die from COPD. Women who smoke are 22 times more likely to die from COPD9 So, clearly, stopping smoking is an essential step in the successful treatment of COPD.

Smoking is now recognized as a powerful addiction, but the good news is there are effective treatments and programs for combating this addiction.

Diagnosis of COPD is also getting easier. Spirometry, one of the best ways to detect a decline in lung function, is widely available. In addition, there are a broad range of treatments available now that can improve the quality and length of life for COPD patients, including:10

  • Vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia
  • Inhaled bronchodilator medications
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Supplemental oxygen therapy
  • Surgery

COPD is costly, though, and hospitalizations among those over age 65 are common. In fact, the costs of COPD treatment are projected to increase to $49 billion by the year 2020.11

Here are a few more statistics for people with COPD:12

  • 51% are limited in their ability to work
  • 70% report being limited as far as physical activity
  • 56% have trouble doing household chores
  • 50% have trouble sleeping
  • 46-53% feel COPD limits their ability to participate in social and/or family activities

In summary

Clearly, the picture is not all roses if you have COPD. But you should be able to take some comfort in the fact that you are most assuredly not alone. Chances are, someone else in your family, your neighborhood, your parish or your social circle knows exactly what you are going through. Also, if you quit smoking (if needed) and follow your COPD treatment plan, you should be able to maintain a positive quality of life for years to come.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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  2. Trends in COPD (Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema): Morbidity and Mortality. (2013, March) Retrieved from
  3. COPD: Facts, Statistics, and You. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  4. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (2017, December 1). Retrieved from
  5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (2017, December 1). Retrieved from
  6. COPD: Facts, Statistics, and You. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  7. Nicholson, A. (2015, July). COPD Stages Explained. Retrieved from
  8. National Center for Health Statistics. (2017, March 17). Retrieved from
  9. COPD: Facts, Statistics, and You. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  10. NIH Fact Sheets - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). (n.d.). Retrieved from
  11. COPD: Facts, Statistics, and You. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  12. COPD: Facts, Statistics, and You. (n.d.). Retrieved from