Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Causes

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a rising menace that affects thousands of individuals worldwide in their forties and above.

The risk of COPD is particularly raised due to certain lifestyle and genetic features. These do not necessarily mean a confirmed causation of the condition, however presence of these risk factors raise the chance of getting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Some of the risk factors that raise chance of getting COPD include:-

Changeable risk factors for COPD

Changeable risk factors that can be stopped or modified before they can lead to COPD include:-

  • Smoking

    This is the most important causative factor associated with COPD. At least four out of five people with COPD have a history of being smokers in the past or are smokers at present.

    Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals that cause irritation in the inner lining and walls of the airways. This leads to inflammation of the walls. The inflammation and damage leads to scarring and deformities of the air sacs and narrow air passages. This is called emphysema and leads to loss of elasticity of the lung tissues that is essential for breathing and oxygen extraction from the inhaled air.

    Around 10-25% of smokers develop COPD. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking. This damage caused to the airways by cigarette smoke cannot be reversed and smokers even after quitting continue to have a higher risk of developing COPD.

    Female smokers are nearly 13 times as likely to die from COPD as women who have never smoked. On the other hand male smokers are nearly 12 times as likely to die from COPD as males who have never smoked.

  • Passive smoking

    Inhaling tobacco smoke passively may also raise risk of COPD

  • Exposure to dust and fumes

    Exposure to certain types of dust and chemicals, especially at work, can raise the risk of COPD. The exposed chemicals may include cadmium, isocyanates, coal dust and grain husk etc.

    The risk is greater in those who smoke and are also at risk of occupational exposure to fumes, dust, chemicals etc. at work.

  • Exposure to air pollutants

    Air pollutants may also raise the risk of developing COPD.

COPD risk factors that cannot be changed or altered

Some risk factors cannot be changed or altered to reduce the risk of developing COPD. These include:-

  • Genetic predisposition to developing COPD

    Smokers with siblings who develop COPD may have a genetic make-up that raises their risk of getting COPD.

  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency

    This is a rare condition (affecting less than 1% of the population) that raises the risk of COPD. Alpha-1-antitrypsin is a protein mainly produced in the liver that protects the lungs from damage. Without this the lungs can be damaged by enzymes present naturally in the body.

    People who have an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency usually develop COPD at a younger age of below 35. The individual sufferer may inherit the faulty alpha-1 antitrypsin gene from each parent to get the condition.

Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Sources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease/Pages/Causes.aspx
  2. http://www.bcguidelines.ca/pdf/copd.pdf
  3. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/13029/49401/49401.pdf
  4. http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/publications/solddc-chapters/copd.pdf
  5. http://www.who.int/respiratory/copd/GOLD_WR_06.pdf

Further Reading

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