Text size:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Easy ReadOne or more sections on this page provide access to easy-read information - look out for this logo.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can mean any of a number of serious lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease, in which people have difficulty breathing because of damage to their lungs. It is a common condition that affects around three million people in the UK. It usually affects people over the age of 35, though many are not diagnosed until later in life.

People with COPD have difficulties breathing, which is caused by narrowing of the airways that take air into their lungs. This is called airflow obstruction. Typical symptoms of COPD include increasing breathlessness when active, a persistent cough with phlegm, and recurring chest infections.

COPD is most commonly caused by smoking which damages the lungs, but in some cases it can be caused by other health conditions, or by exposure to hazardous chemicals, dust or pollution.

You can find out more about the symptoms, causes and treatment of COPD on the NHS website.

Taking light exercise

Having COPD can have a big impact on your life. You may find that you aren't able to be as active as you would like to be, or that you easily get tired or out of breath. However, most people with COPD can still do light exercise, which may even help to make you feel better. Walking, light gardening and using light weights to strengthen the upper body can all be helpful for people with COPD. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation group, which is an exercise group designed for people with breathing difficulties. It's also a good way to get out of the house and meet people.

Giving up smoking

If you're a smoker, the most important thing to do when you are diagnosed with COPD is to stop smoking. This will stop your lungs being damaged further, and will stop tobacco smoke irritating the lining of the lungs. If you need help to stop smoking you can go to our Help to stop smoking page.

If you are concerned about COPD, talk to your GP.

Breathe Easy groups

Asthma + Lung UK organises Breathe Easy support groups around the country for people with COPD and other lung conditions and their family and carers. Locally you can find the following groups:

Healthy Lungs  

Open Age runs the Healthy lungs programme for people living in Kensington and Chelsea with a respiratory disease such as COPD.

In order to qualify for this class, the patient must have a diagnosed lung condition & have a clinical referral completed before attending.

Asthma + Lung UK has information on living with COPD, and the treatments and support available, including the following leaflets:

The NHS website has information on the symptoms, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COPD. 

People with COPD are at greater risk of chest infections - go to our page on Chest infections and pneumonia for more information.

Easy ReadThe Easy Health website has gathered together various easy-read leaflets which will help people with learning disabilities to understand more about COPD and other respiratory conditions.

Last updated: 20/02/2023