3 Risk Factors and Possible Causes of COPD

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by Wendy Henderson |

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—but what are the risk factors or probable causes for developing this lung disease? According to COPDFoundation.org, there are three main risk factors for developing COPD.


Smoking is the number one cause of COPD and although not all people who develop the disease have a history of smoking, 90 percent of people diagnosed do.

COPD is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 40 who either still smoke or have in the past.

Find out more about the treatment and management of COPD.

Environmental Factors

Other pollutants besides tobacco smoke may cause damage to the lungs and lead to COPD if a person has been subjected to them over a long period of time. These include pollution, chemical and their fumes, and dust. Long-term exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke may also be a risk for developing the condition.

Discover how COPD affects the lungs.

Genetic Factors

For a small percentage of COPD patients, the disease is genetic. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD) is the leading known genetic cause of emphysema 2. A lack of the Alpha-1 Antitrypsin protein allows white blood cells to damage the lung cells and can lead to COPD.

Scientists believe there may be other genetic influences as not everyone who has COPD is a smoker or has an Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency, but other genetic causes have yet to be determined.

Dr. Seheult explains emphysema, describing the symptoms of the disease and the diagnostic procedure for patients.

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