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Risk Factors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
It is possible to develop COPD with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing COPD. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.
Risk factors include:
The most important risk factor for COPD is cigarette smoking. Almost all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. However, not all smokers develop COPD. Factors in your environment or genetic make-up also contribute to the development of COPD.
Smoking more "exotic" forms of tobacco, such as Chinese waterpipes, are can be even more harmful. In some cases, these can increase your risk more than traditional cigarettes.
Research suggests that people who are chronically exposed to secondhand smoke (in any form) have an increased risk of developing COPD.
COPD usually develops in older persons with a long history of cigarette smoking. However, one form of emphysema has a genetic component. It runs in families. It is also more common in people of northern European descent. People with this form of COPD have a hereditary deficiency of a blood component. It is known as alpha-1-protease inhibitor (alpha-1-antitrypsin [AAT]). People with this defect can develop COPD by early middle age. If you have close relatives who developed COPD in their thirties or forties, your risk of this type of COPD may be elevated. A deficiency of AAT can be detected by blood tests available at medical laboratories.
You are more likely to develop COPD as you get older. This is partly related to the number of years of cigarette smoking.
A history of frequent childhood lung infections increases your risk of developing COPD.
COPD is much more common in men than in women. But, this may be largely related to the higher rate of smoking among men. As the number of women who have significant smoking histories has increased, the number of COPD-related deaths in women has also risen.
Exposure to Environmental and Occupational Pollutants
Chronic exposure to dust, gases, chemicals, and biomass fuels increases your risk of developing COPD. These include smoke from burning wood, charcoal, and crop residue. Exposure to these can also worsen symptoms of the disease.
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What is COPD? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cop. Accessed October 1, 2012.
What you can do about a lung disease called COPD. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease website. Available at: http://www.goldcopd.org/uploads/users/files/GOLD%5FPatient%5FRevJan10.pdf. Accessed October 1, 2012.
6/20/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Po JY, FitzGerald JM, Carlsten C. Thorax. 2011;66(3):232-239.
11/7/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Dhe J, Yang Y, et al. Chinese water-pipe smoking and the risk of COPD. 2014;146(4):924-931.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 03/2015
- Update Date: 03/15/2015