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Chronic lower respiratory diseases

Diagram of the Lungs

Diagram of the lungs

Chronic lower respiratory diseases are diseases that affect the lungs. The most deadly of these is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which makes it hard to breathe. COPD includes two main illnesses:

  • Emphysema (em-fuh-ZEE-muh) — If you have emphysema, some of the air sacs in your lungs are damaged, making it hard for your body to get the oxygen it needs.
  • Chronic bronchitis (brong-KEYE-tuhss) — If you have chronic bronchitis, the lining of the lungs' airways are red and swollen. Over time, the airways become narrow and partly clogged with mucus that cannot be cleared.

Cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD. If you smoke, you are 12 times as likely to die of COPD as men who have never smoked. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis also are strongly associated with lung cancer.

Most cases of COPD are preventable. Take these steps:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid irritants that may contribute to COPD, like chemical fumes, air pollution, and dust.

Damage to the lungs caused by COPD cannot be repaired. If the disease is found early, though, it might be possible to slow it down. If you have symptoms like shortness of breath, an ongoing cough, or chest tightness, your doctor can give you a simple test for COPD.

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Content last updated: January 10, 2011.

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