Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, is an umbrella term for respiratory disorders in which the lungs are partly blocked. You might have a form of COPD, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, if you experience wheezing and shortness of breath, blue lips or fingernails, chronic coughing with clear, white, yellow or green sputum, low energy, respiratory infections, mucous in your lungs first thing in the morning, or tightness in your chest.
This is particularly likely if you have any of the risk factors. The main risk factor is smoking. If you are a smoker, you are at risk for COPD; the longer you smoke and the more heavily you smoke, the greater your risk; you are at risk from cigars and pipes as well as from cigarettes and from marijuana as well as from tobacco. After you quit smoking, your risk goes down. This is particularly true if you have asthma, or if you have some other COPD risk factor, such as exposure to chemical fumes or fine dust or a genetic predisposition to the disease. In the developed world, most cases of COPD are due to smoking.
Quitting smoking is the single biggest thing you can do to lower your risk of COPD. The condition develops over years, so the sooner you quit, the more it will help. If you’ve tried to quit unsuccessfully, try other methods until you find one that works for you. In addition to that, however, you should also use lung protection, such as a mask, if you live or work in a smoky or dusty environment, and if you have asthma, see to it that you’re getting proper treatment.
Another reason to make an effort to avoid COPD— on top of being able to breathe easier—is that it increases dementia risk. A recent study found that people with COPD are prone to tiny hemorrhages, known as microbleeds, in the brain. These microbleeds are associated with a condition called cerebral small vessel disease, which can cause or accelerate cognitive decline in old age. Study subjects with COPD were more likely to have these microbleeds than people without even after controlling for other factors, such as age, sex, cholesterol levels, general health, and even smoking status. COPD can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, or lung cancer, as well as heightened vulnerability to respiratory infections.