Understanding the 2 Main Types of COPD

Both Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis Cause Difficulty Breathing

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If you have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you should know that there are different types of COPD.

COPD is an umbrella term for disorders that are characterized by obstruction of the airways and limitation to airflow. People with COPD have trouble breathing and shortness of breath.

It's estimated that 5 percent of the population has COPD. The condition kills more than 120,000 Americans every year - but proper management can prolong your life and improve your quality of life.

The diseases that fall under the scope of COPD are: 

Many people with COPD have a combination of the two subtypes.

Keep reading to learn about the two types of COPD and how you can manage the form that you have.

Two Types Of COPD


Emphysema is a common type of COPD in which the air sacs of the lungs become damaged, causing them to enlarge and burst. Damage in this area makes it difficult for people with emphysema to expel air from their lungs. This leads to a build-up of carbon dioxide in the body and a myriad of emphysema signs and symptoms

The symptoms of emphysema include:

  • shortness of breath
  • ongoing feeling of not being able to get enough air
  • long-term cough 
  • wheezing
  • long-term mucus production
  • ongoing fatigue

More than 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with emphysema. Learn more about emphysema:

What is Emphysema?

How is Emphysema Diagnosed?

Managing Emphysema Treatment

Facts About Oxygen Therapy

Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency: A Genetic Cause of Emphysema

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation and irritation of the airways, the tubes in your lungs where air passes through. When the air tubes are inflamed and irritated, thick mucus begins to form in them.

Over time, this mucus plugs up airways and makes breathing difficult. When you cough this mucus up, the excretions are known as sputum, or phlegm. 

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:

  • having a cough on most days for at least 3 months, for 2 years in a row
  • coughing or spitting up clear or white mucus
  • feeling very tired
  • feeling short of breath
  • chest discomfort or tightness

The number of adults with diagnosed chronic bronchitis in the past year is 8.7 million. Discover how to manage chronic bronchitis:

What is Chronic Bronchitis?

Do I Have Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis?

Making a Diagnosis of Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis Treatment Options

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Improving Your COPD Symptoms

While each type of COPD follows a specific developmental course, they both begin with an airway irritant. In fact, there are four common causes of COPD that are totally preventable. These are:

Although COPD is chronic and cannot be cured, it can be treated and managed. Doctors agree that the single best thing you can do to improve your symptoms - regardless of the type of COPD you have - is to quit smoking. If you continue smoking, your COPD will quickly worsen over time.


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