Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: August 2021

It is estimated that more than 250 million people in the world may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This number is just an estimate because it is hard to collect this information at a global level.1

COPD is also difficult to diagnose, especially in early stages. Because of this, some experts think that the number of people with COPD may be even higher than reported, both around the world and in the United States.2

How common is COPD in the United States?

More than 16 million U.S. adults have a diagnosis of any type of COPD. This is about 6.6 percent of adults. This number includes those who are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, emphysema, COPD, or a combination of these.3

In the United States:3,4

  • COPD is the fourth most common cause of death or disability
  • From 1969 to 2013, the death rate for COPD doubled
  • COPD is responsible for 8.1 million emergency room visits each year

Who is more likely to have COPD in the United States?

The rate of COPD is different across states. It ranges from 4 percent in Hawaii to about 15 percent in West Virginia. In general, COPD rates are highest in the Southeast and in some Midwestern states.4

COPD is more common in rural areas. People in rural areas may be twice as likely to develop COPD compared to the rest of the population. The rate of COPD is also higher for those who have lower incomes.3,5,6

The likelihood of a COPD diagnosis grows with age. The risk increases after age 40 and grows with time. It is most common to receive a diagnosis after age 65.6.

A relationship between race or ethnicity and COPD is not certain. There is some evidence that COPD is more common for American Indians/Alaska Natives and less common for Hispanics, but this is not proven.4

What are the most common causes of COPD?

The top cause of COPD is smoking tobacco. About 75 percent of COPD cases are in current or past smokers. It is estimated that 1 in 5 smokers will develop COPD. Additionally, about 8 out of every 10 COPD deaths are caused by smoking.4

About 25 percent of COPD cases are not caused by smoking. These can be caused by exposure to other irritants like dusts, fumes, or pollution. A small portion of people develop COPD because of a genetic condition called Alpha-1 deficiency.2

In some parts of the world, it is more common to burn fuel indoors for cooking and heat. Exposure to these fumes can cause COPD. This type of exposure is more likely to cause COPD in women.1

Does COPD affect men and women at different rates?

In the past, men were more likely to develop COPD than women. This may have been because men were more likely to be smokers. They were also more likely to have jobs in a workplace where they could be exposed to toxic irritants that can cause COPD.1

However, in recent years the number of women diagnosed with COPD has been much higher. Now, women are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with COPD. Specifically, of those with COPD, roughly 56 percent are women and 44 percent are men. The reasons for these differences between men and women are not completely understood.4

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