Woman coughing while using her laptop

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Understanding COPD is important in finding the best treatment for you. COPD is a group of lung diseases that makes it harder to breathe. COPD is also progressive, which means it can worsen over time.

Talk to your doctor about treatment and lifestyle changes that may help you manage your condition. If you’d like some help with the conversation, get the free guide.

Common Types

Chronic Bronchitis vs Emphysema

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common conditions of COPD. While they both make breathing difficult, they affect the lungs in different ways. It is possible to have both conditions in varying degrees.

  • Chronic Bronchitis

    Chronic bronchitis is a condition where the airways in the lungs are inflamed all the time. This causes: 

    • increased cough
    • reduced air flow

    Bronchitis may be considered chronic (or long-term) if a person coughs and produces excess mucus most days for at least 3 months in each of 2 consecutive years.

  • Emphysema

    Emphysema is a condition where the air sacs (alveoli) inside the lungs are affected. Healthy air sacs expand when you breathe in and return to their original size when you breathe out. But with emphysema:

    • air sacs have become enlarged
    • air sacs cannot return to normal size

    When air sacs are not emptying as they should, it causes air to become trapped, making it hard for air to enter.

COPD Causes & Risk Factors

These are some of the causes and factors that may put you at risk for developing COPD.

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Smoking and secondhand smoke

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Air pollution

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Chemical fumes or dust

COPD Stages

COPD stages image

COPD can be mild, moderate, or severe.
To make this determination, your doctor will examine you, give you a breathing test (spirometry), and assess your medical history. Based on the amount of limited airflow from your breathing test, your doctor will see where you fall in the GOLD* classification and determine your COPD severity. There are 4 grades or stages in the GOLD classification, with 4 being the most severe. Your doctor will also evaluate your symptoms and previous flare-ups to determine where you stand with your COPD.

*GOLD stands for Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease.

Visit COPD.com to learn more about COPD stages.

Symptoms & Flare-ups

Recognizing COPD symptoms

You probably know the COPD symptoms that are normal for you. But did you know that they can evolve or change over time? And sometimes they can be hard to recognize as COPD. Why? Because people may mistake symptoms for “getting older” in general. Or assume a symptom is caused by weight gain and not COPD.

If your current symptoms change or if you have new ones, don’t dismiss them—tell your doctor. And if you’re currently on a maintenance medication, your doctor may consider switching your treatment.

COPD symptoms include:

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Difficulty breathing

You may experience shortness of breath and/or wheezing during normal activity or while at rest. 

Chest tightness COPD symptoms icon

Chest tightness

You may have the feeling that something is squeezing or sitting on your chest, making it hard to breathe.

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Coughing up mucus

You may experience a change in the amount or color of mucus coughed up.

What’s a COPD flare-up?

A flare-up (or exacerbation) is when your usual COPD symptoms become much worse for several days or weeks (not simply when you need to use your rescue inhaler) and require one or more of the following:

  • Steroids (like prednisone)
  • Antibiotics
  • Emergency room visit
  • Hospital stay

Respiratory viral or bacterial infections cause many flare-ups. But triggers range from pollution to stress, and they can be different for everyone. Flare-ups often come on suddenly, so it helps to be prepared with a COPD plan. Partner with your doctor to create one. Remember, “toughing it out” is not a plan. It’s just tough. So be sure to tell your doctor how your COPD truly affects you.

Real patients with COPD describe their experiences with TRELEGY


View transcript

Once-daily TRELEGY is a prescription medicine used long term to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both, for better breathing and fewer flare-ups. TRELEGY is not used to relieve sudden breathing problems and won’t replace a rescue inhaler. Remember to watch the complete video to see additional safety information.

Once-daily TRELEGY 100/62.5/25 mcg is a prescription medicine used long term to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both, for better breathing and fewer flare-ups. TRELEGY is not used to relieve sudden breathing problems and won’t replace a rescue inhaler. Watch the complete video to see additional safety information.

Important Safety Information

  • Do not use TRELEGY to relieve sudden breathing problems.  Always have a rescue inhaler with you to treat sudden symptoms.
  • Do not use TRELEGY if you have a severe allergy to milk proteins or are allergic to any of the ingredients in TRELEGY. Ask your healthcare provider if you are not sure.
  • Do not use TRELEGY more often than prescribed.
  • Do not take TRELEGY with other medicines that contain a long-acting beta2-adrenergic agonist (LABA) or an anticholinergic for any reason. Tell your healthcare provider about all your medical conditions and about all the medicines you take.

Please see additional Important Safety Information on this web page.
Please see full Prescribing Information, including Patient Information, on this web page. 

My life with COPD 

Once I had COPD I noticed that it took me longer to do stuff, like cutting the grass or, you know, you'd stop, take a break. 

Real patients who were taking TRELEGY at the time of filming and one of their caregivers. GSK paid them for their time and expenses for sharing their unique experiences. Individual results may vary. 

It slowed my whole life down. 


You know I used to be able to, to jog and do a quick trot around the neighborhood. And you know, wave to all the dogs and the, and the kids that were out and, and have a great time. And then I was slower and slower, and then it was almost a crawl to get around to see everybody. So for a while I actually even eliminated that part of my life, and that wasn't, it wasn't any fun. It wasn’t any fun. I missed it.


I got to the point where I didn't do much fishing because it was too much of a chore. Woodworking was the same way. I- I- didn't enjoy it anymore because it was too hard. 


Wanting more 

I've had several flare-ups. I'd be treated with steroids and antibiotics, and, it would, it would feel like you were hit with a bad flu stick, is what it felt like. I missed out on several activities when I'd have these flare-ups. With Susan, there were things that she went ahead and did and I just canceled out on. 

A flare-up (or exacerbation) is the worsening of COPD symptoms for several days or weeks that may require steroids, antibiotics, or hospital stays. 

They're hard and it feels like there's an anvil right here and it's very, very difficult to take a deep breath.

I wanted more from a COPD treatment... with TRELEGY it was one medicine that had all the medicines in it I needed.

TRELEGY won’t replace a rescue inhaler.

I pick up my TRELEGY inhaler and use it once a day. 

What 3 in 1 can do

TRELEGY has two bronchodilators that will help you with the symptoms of COPD…

Individual results may vary.

…and the main one there being shortness of breath. And it has that third drug which is that anti-inflammatory… 

Dr. Corbridge
, Pulmonologist 

…which we know is well positioned to prevent those exacerbations that you're at risk for. 

Dr. Corbridge is a physician and was a GSK employee at time of filming. 

And it's conveniently administered. One inhalation per day I think is helping our patients. 

Individual results may vary. TRELEGY won’t replace a rescue inhaler. 

When Mike couldn’t help in the yard it really affected him and he became so apologetic. He always felt so bad and would apologize, “I’m so sorry I can’t help you out there.” 

Individual results may vary.

And now that he is taking the TRELEGY he is able to get out there.

I’m more content.

Content is a good word.

Yeah, I’m more content now because I’m not sitting on the sideline watching other people do stuff.

Individual results may vary.

Want more from a COPD treatment? Ask your doctor if TRELEGY is right for you

TRELEGY won’t replace a rescue inhaler for sudden breathing problems. 

TRELEGY won’t replace a rescue inhaler.

Tell your doctor if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure before taking it. 

Do not take TRELEGY more than prescribed. TRELEGY may increase your risk of thrush, pneumonia, and osteoporosis.

Use TRELEGY only once a day, every day. 

Call your doctor if worsened breathing, chest pain, mouth or tongue swelling, problems urinating, vision changes, or eye pain occur.  

Click here to watch a video on how TRELEGY works

Please see additional Important Safety Information and full Prescribing Information, including Patient Information on this web page. 

TRELEGY ELLIPTA was developed in collaboration with INNOVIVA. The shape of the ELLIPTA inhaler is a trademark of GSK. Trademarks owned or licensed by GSK. ©2020 GSK or licensor. FVUVID200021 September 2020. Produced in USA.



Learn about how you can treat & manage your COPD