Epidemiology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Respiration. 2001;68(1):4-19. doi: 10.1159/000050456.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the industrialized and the developing countries. During 1997, COPD has been estimated to be the number four cause of death after cardiovascular diseases, tumors and cerebrovascular diseases in the United States. In 2020 COPD will probably become the third leading cause of death all over the world, following the trend of increasing prevalence of lung cancer. The impact of this respiratory disease worldwide is expected to increase with a heavy economic burden on individuals and society. In the United States direct and indirect costs of COPD were estimated at about USD24 billion in 1993. Unfortunately, there are few data on health-care utilization despite the great interest in COPD among researchers. As all chronic diseases, the prevalence of COPD is strongly associated with age. Data collected in a general population sample (living in Italy) showed a progressive increase of the prevalence of chronic bronchitis and emphysema with age, both in males and in females. COPD is determined by the action of a number of various risk factors either singly or interacting among themselves in a synergistic way. Among these, the most important is cigarette smoking, ranking at the first level for developing chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Also air pollution and some occupational exposures represent risks for developing COPD. Many epidemiological studies have indicated an association between the prevalence of chronic bronchitis and a low socioeconomic status. Furthermore, in the etiology of COPD we must consider endogenous risk factors such as gender, genetic features, presence of respiratory troubles in childhood, and family history. To date, epidemiologic studies have been of great importance for the characterization of the disease at a population level, indicating possible causes and assessing its impact on the individual and on society as a whole. Unfortunately, international standards for the diagnosis of COPD are lacking, which complicates the organization of appropriate epidemiological surveys.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Health Education / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Survival Analysis