Key Facts and Statistics About COPD

Nurse listening to patient's lungs

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a term that has been assigned to a group of life-threatening lung diseases that affect normal breathing.

They are:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Refractory (non-reversible) asthma
  • Some forms of bronchiectasis 

Cigarette smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD and accounts for approximately 80% of all cases in the United States today. Breathing in other pollutants at home or in the workplace, respiratory infections and even genetic factors can also play a part in developing COPD, but by and large, it is a cigarette smoker's disease.

Secondhand smoke can also be a significant contributor to COPD, even if the person breathing it in has never smoked.


Let's take a look at some of the statistics associated with this common group of diseases.

  1. In 2012, approximately 3 million people lost their lives to COPD around the world. That number represents 6% of all deaths globally for that year.
  2. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S, beaten only by cancer (2nd leading cause) and heart disease (leading cause). Globally, it is the 5th leading cause of death.
  3. Estimates are that by the year 2030, COPD will rise to the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide unless urgent action isn't taken to reduce tobacco use.
  4. Upwards of 24 million people suffer from some form of COPD currently in America, but only about half that number have been diagnosed. Many people with breathing problems don't realize they are the result of COPD.
  5. Approximately 65 million people worldwide have moderate to severe COPD, according to the World Health Organization.
  6. More than 90% of COPD-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
  7. COPD is more common in American women (6.7%) than men (5.2) today.
  8. Female smokers are 13 times more likely to die of COPD than women who have never smoked. For men, the risk is 12 times that of their non-smoking male counterparts.
  9. Women are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis at approximately twice the rate of men. In 2011, 6.8 million women had chronic bronchitis compared to 3.3 million men in the same time period.
  10. Emphysema used to primarily affect men, but not any longer. Women outrank men here as well currently, with 2.6 million cases of emphysema reported in 2011, compared to 2.1 million for men.
  11. Emphysema is usually slow to develop. Of the 4.7 million cases ever reported, more than 90% of them were in people who were 45 years or older.
  12. In the United States, one in five hospitalizations of people over the age of 40 is due to COPD. 
  13. Over 800,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. are related to COPD.
  14. Both Alabama and Kentucky have COPD prevalence rates that are over 9%.
  15. It is estimated that 90% of people with COPD are current or former smokers.

The most common symptoms of COPD are feelings of breathlessness (like you cannot get enough air), a chronic cough, and abnormal sputum/mucus in the airways. If you are concerned that you might have COPD, please see your doctor right away.

The unfortunate truth is that COPD is not curable. It is possible to slow or stop the progression of the disease if it is diagnosed early, however, and proactive measures are taken to halt exposure to the irritants causing the problem.

Quit Smoking Today

Make the commitment to put smoking behind you for good. The work it takes to quit is minor when compared to the benefits that will come into your life once you're free of nicotine addiction.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Lung Association. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Fact Sheet.
  • COPD Foundation. COPD Statistics across America.
  • The World Health Organization. Burden of COPD.
  • The World Health Organization. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).