COPD Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease that blocks the airway, making it difficult to breathe. About 16 million people have been diagnosed with COPD in the United States, though many more people with COPD have not yet been diagnosed.

COPD has no cure, but there are some things you can do to prevent it, and treatments are available to help you manage the condition if you are diagnosed with it.

This article highlights important facts and statistics you should know about COPD. 

man with COPD measuring lung capacity

Phynart Studio / Getty Images

COPD Overview

COPD is a group of respiratory diseases that damage the lungs and worsen over time. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two of the health conditions included in COPD.

In the United States, more than 85% of COPD is caused by smoking cigarettes. However, nonsmokers can also develop COPD, especially when exposed to air pollution or harmful chemicals.

Symptoms of COPD

Some symptoms of COPD include:

  • Frequent coughing
  • Frequent wheezing 
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Finding it hard to take a deep breath

How Common Is COPD?

In the United States, 5 in 100 people have been diagnosed with COPD. Many more are suspected of having COPD but have not yet been diagnosed by a healthcare provider. In 2019, COPD was the third leading cause of death worldwide.

Over 16 million people in the United States are already known to be living with COPD. It is also expected that older people will continue to be diagnosed more often.

COPD rates and deaths are highest in the states that are along the Ohio River and the lower part of the Mississippi River.

COPD by Ethnicity

In the United States, the rate of COPD diagnosis has not been studied across all ethnic groups. There are economic, social, and location impacts (rural vs. urban) that may also affect COPD diagnosis that cannot be controlled in studies of COPD related to ethnicity. Ongoing research is looking into genetic factors (including race) associated with COPD.

For both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, White and non-Hispanic/non-Latino groups have the highest COPD rates. 

COPD by Age & Gender

COPD is more common among people 65 and older, affecting women more than men. As people age, lung damage accumulates from smoking cigarettes, air pollution, and other chemicals. COPD develops over time and worsens over a lifetime of exposure to potentially damaging substances.

In 2018, females were diagnosed with chronic bronchitis at nearly double the rate of males. However, males were slightly more likely to be diagnosed with emphysema. While the exact reasons for overall higher rates of COPD in women are not known, some factors may play a role:

  • Women smoke at higher rates than men and are more affected by secondhand smoke.
  • Women have different COPD symptoms than men for some health conditions like heart attacks.
  • Women can develop COPD earlier in life with exposure to smaller amounts of cigarette smoke.

As healthcare providers learn to better recognize the condition in women, they have been diagnosed more frequently. Additional research is needed to understand how sex plays a role in rates of COPD.

Some animal studies show that females may respond differently to toxins like cigarette smoke; this is believed to be related to the sex hormone estrogen.

Causes of COPD and Risk Factors

COPD is believed to frequently develop due to breathing in substances that irritate your lung tissue. Long-term exposure to lung toxins increases your risk of COPD.

Potential risk factors that can lead to COPD include:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Environmental substances (air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, and chemicals)
  • Alpha-1 deficiency (a genetic condition where the body does not make enough of a protein that protects the lungs)

Researchers are currently studying if you can inherit an increased risk of COPD (genetic markers).

What Are the Mortality Rates for COPD?

In 2019, 36.9 of 100,000 people in the United States had COPD as their underlying cause of death. This includes all ethnicities, sexes, and ages.

Mortality rates for COPD have improved from 1999 to 2019. In 1999, 57 per 100,000 men died of COPD, which decreased to 40.5 per 100,000 in 2109. However, the rate remains steady for women, around 35 per 100,000.

In total numbers, women die of COPD more often than men, but that is because there are more women in the U.S. population. Men die at a faster rate than women.

Mortality rates for COPD vary by ethnicity. Those who identify as White are also more likely to die of COPD than people of color.

Screening and Early Detection

Screening for COPD is not recommended unless you are having symptoms. Early reporting of your symptoms to your healthcare provider may trigger them to order screening tests. 

Some tests used to screen for and diagnose COPD include:

Treatments are available to help manage your COPD. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals, may potentially reduce the harm to your lungs. Some people benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation.


COPD is a progressive disease that decreases lung function and makes breathing hard. Smoking is the most common risk factor, but people who have never smoked can develop COPD. The condition is more common in older adults, women, and White people but can happen to anyone. If you are showing symptoms of COPD, tell your healthcare provider because early diagnosis and intervention can help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is COPD the same as chronic bronchitis or emphysema?

    COPD is an umbrella term for a group of lung diseases. It does include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

  • Can COPD be cured?

    COPD causes long-term, progressive lung damage, so there is no cure. However, a variety of treatments may help you to live with COPD.

  • What is the life expectancy for a person with COPD?

    COPD is chronic and progressive, but many people live a long time with the disease. Your specific life expectancy will vary. It depends on the amount of damage to your lungs if you stop smoking, your body mass index (BMI), and your other health conditions.

21 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  2. American Lung Association. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  3. American Lung Association. COPD causes and risk factors.

  4. World Health Organization. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics about COPD.

  6. National Center for Health Statistics. Percentage of COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis for adults aged 18 and over, United States, 2109-2020.

  7. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - Level 3 cause.

  8. Khakban A, Sin DD, FitzGerald JM, et al. The projected epidemic of COPD hospitalizations over the next 15 years. A population-based perspectiveAm J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016;195(3). doi:10.1164/rccm.201606-1162PP

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COPD death rates in the United States.

  10. Sood A, Petersen H, Liu C, et al. Racial and ethnic minorities have a lower prevalence of airflow obstruction than non-Hispanic whitesCOPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 2022;19(1):61-68. doi:10.1080/15412555.2022.2029384

  11. Pleasants RA, Riley IL, Mannino DM. Defining and targeting health disparities in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseInt J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2016;11(1):2475-2496. doi:10.2147/COPD.S79077

  12. Initial COPDGene study design.

  13. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease prevalence and mortality.

  14. American Lung Association. COPD mortality.

  15. Silveyra P, Fuentes N, Rodriguez Bauza DE. Sex and gender differences in lung disease. In: Wang YX, ed. Lung Inflammation in Health and Disease, Volume II. Vol 1304. Springer International Publishing; 2021:227-258. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-68748-9_14

  16. Mauvais-Jarvis F, Bairey Merz N, Barnes PJ, et al. Sex and gender: modifiers of health, disease, and medicineThe Lancet. 2020;396(10250):565-582. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31561-0

  17. American Lung Association. What causes COPD?

  18. Regan EA, Hokanson JE, Murphy JR, et al. Genetic epidemiology of COPD (Copdgene) study designCOPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 2011;7(1):32-43. doi:10.3109/15412550903499522

  19. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: US Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmation recommendation statementJAMA. 2022;327(18):1806–1811. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.5692

  20. American Lung Association. What are COPD symptoms?

  21. American Lung Association. Treating COPD.