Chronic Bronchitis Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The condition is characterized by continual inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes that carry air from the windpipe (trachea) to the lungs.

Chronic bronchitis is most commonly caused by long-term exposure to inhaled chemicals such as smoking tobacco or air pollution. This condition causes difficulty breathing, which gets progressively worse over time.

This article will cover basic facts about chronic bronchitis, including how common it is, risk factors, and mortality rates.

An older Black woman sitting on the couch coughing into her hand.

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Chronic Bronchitis Overview

There are two main types of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is not uncommon for a person to have both types of COPD.

The main symptoms of chronic bronchitis include a chronic cough that has persisted for between three months and two years. This cough is accompanied by excessive sputum production. The chronic swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes usually get worse over time and make it harder to breathe.

How Common is Chronic Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis affects approximately 10 million people in the United States. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the world.

The incidence of chronic bronchitis in 2018 was approximately 18 out of every 500 U.S. adults over the age of 18. The rate decreased slightly every year between 1999 and 2017 but started rising in 2018.

Chronic Bronchitis by Ethnicity

The following are listed in order by the highest prevalence of COPD to the lowest:

  • American Indian/Alaskan Native
  • White non-Hispanic
  • Black non-Hispanic
  • Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic
  • Asian

The incidence of chronic bronchitis in American Indians and Alaskan Natives is approximately 10 out of every 100 people compared to only about 2 out of every 100 people who are Asian.

Chronic Bronchitis by Age and Sex

Sex and age are also factors that contribute to the risk of chronic bronchitis.

In the U.S., people assigned female at birth are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis than people assigned male. Your risk of being diagnosed with some form of COPD also increases exponentially as you age, with the age group experiencing the highest risk for chronic bronchitis being people over the age of 65.

Causes of Chronic Bronchitis and Risk Factors

Other risk factors for chronic bronchitis include smoking, exposure to irritants such as air pollution or other inhaled chemicals, and a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Smoking and Chronic Bronchitis

The biggest risk factor for developing COPD, including chronic bronchitis, is a history of smoking. Approximately 3 out of 4 people who get chronic bronchitis report being a current or ex-smoker.

Additionally, smokers who develop COPD are more likely to have a family history of COPD. Being exposed to secondhand smoke also increases your risk of developing chronic bronchitis.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Chronic Bronchitis?

In 2020, COPD—including chronic bronchitis and emphysema—was the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., with an estimated 148,512 people dying from the disease. The following facts about chronic bronchitis deaths are known:

  • The vast majority of COPD deaths occur in people over the age of 65.
  • You are at a higher risk of dying from chronic bronchitis if you were assigned male at birth.
  • More people assigned female at birth than people assigned male die of chronic bronchitis, as more cisgender females are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.

It can be hard to determine your risk of dying from chronic bronchitis. Healthcare providers use two assessment tools called GOLD and BODE to give them a better idea of a person's status.

GOLD stands for Global Initiative on Obstructive Lung Disease. It classifies COPD as mild, moderate, severe, or very severe based on factors including spirometry measurements, specifically the forced expiratory volume (FEV1).

The BODE assessment stands for body mass index (BMI), [airway] obstruction, dyspnea (breathing difficulty), and exercise capacity.

Screening and Early Detection

Despite a 2018 study estimating that 3 out of 4 adults with COPD are undiagnosed, current evidence does not support random screening for COPD in people who do not have symptoms.

It is unclear if early detection and treatment of mild chronic bronchitis in people without symptoms will improve mortality rates. However, there is evidence that people with moderate COPD benefit from treatment with medications. Therefore, it's recommended anyone with symptoms of COPD see a healthcare provider.

Some studies have also shown that quitting smoking after being diagnosed significantly improves FEV1. If you are a current smoker, quitting could be the single most important thing you can do to protect your health.


Chronic bronchitis is a form of COPD. It's one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The symptoms include a chronic cough and excessive sputum. Chronic bronchitis is treated with lifestyle changes like exercise and quitting smoking, medications, and in severe cases, a lung transplant.

While some risk factors (such as sex or age) cannot be changed, smoking is the single biggest risk factor for COPD—and it's modifiable. Quitting smoking can greatly improve your health and decrease your risk of dying or experiencing complications of chronic bronchitis.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.