Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Being told you or someone you love has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can be a very overwhelming and frightening experience. The medical information you receive may be confusing and difficult to understand at times. It is important to remember that you are not alone and there are things you can do to help manage the symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a group of progressive lung conditions including:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic asthma.

The condition causes narrowing of the bronchial tubes in the lungs (sometimes called bronchi or airways) and this makes it difficult to breathe. While COPD is a progressive and (currently) incurable disease, with the right diagnosis and treatment there are many things you can do to manage your condition and breathe better. People can live for many years with COPD and still enjoy a good quality of life.

How common is COPD?

COPD is a common lung condition affecting both men and women. Around 1 in 13 Australians aged 40 years and over have some form of COPD2 however around half of these people living with COPD symptoms do not know they have the condition3. Indigenous Australians are 2.5 times more likely to have COPD than non-Indigenous Australians4. COPD is not a contagious disease.

What can I expect to experience?

It’s important to know that each person experiences COPD differently. In the early stages of the condition, some people may not experience much impact on their life or emotions. Others feel they need more help to be independent, particularly during an exacerbation (flare-up of symptoms) or as their disease progresses. It is also common to experience changes in your mood such as depression or anxiety, but it is important to remember that there are support services you can access, such as pulmonary rehabilitation and support groups, which can help you learn about your condition, and improve your wellbeing.

COPD Action Plan

The COPD Action Plan helps you recognise when your symptoms change and what action you should take. It is essential that you plan it with your health professional and review the information with your doctor regularly.

C.O.P.E. COPD Online Patient Education

COPE is an easy to use and interactive educational component of pulmonary rehabilitation for people who do not have access to a program in their community. It can also be used to complement pulmonary rehabilitation or as a reference point for information on living well with a lung condition.

No one knows what it’s like to have COPD, not doctors or nurses or even our friends, really. People with COPD are the only ones who can speak from experience. Speaking to others with COPD helps you realise that you’re not alone and you can still enjoy a good life.
Meredith, lives with COPD.


  1. National Asthma Council &Lung Foundation Australia. Asthma-COPD overlap. National Asthma Council Australia. Melbourne, 2017.
  2. Toelle B, Xuan W, Bird T, Abramson M, Atkinson D, Burton D, James A, Jenkins C, Johns D, Maguire G, Musk A, Walters E, Wood-Baker R, Hunter M, Graham B, Southwell P, Vollmer W, Buist A, Marks G. Respiratory symptoms and illness in older Australians: The Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) study. Med J Aust 2013;198:144-148
  3. Xuan W, Toelle B, Bird T, Abramson M, Graham B, James A, Johns D, Maguire G, Wood-Baker R, Marks G. Prevalence of respiratory symptoms, illnesses and spirometric diagnoses in the Australian BOLD study. Respirology 2011; 16: 51
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: First Results, Australia, 2012–13. ABS cat. no. 4727.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
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