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    Mayo Clinic Minute: What you need to know about COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the most common smoking-related illness, but most people don't have a good understanding of it. Dr. Paul Scanlon, a Mayo Clinic pulmonologist, breaks down how common COPD is, the effects it has on the body, and how COPD patients can improve their quality of life.

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These days, everyone knows the health problems smoking can cause. But how much do you know about COPD?

"It's a disease of the airways that causes obstruction to airflow and causes difficulty breathing," Dr. Scanlon says. "So shortness of breath is the most common symptom, along with cough and sputum production."

Dr. Scanlon says if you know someone who smokes, you probably know someone with COPD.

"It affects tens of millions of Americans – 7 to 10 percent of the population, depending on how you count it," he says.

While complications from COPD sometimes can be deadly, a COPD diagnosis is not a death sentence.

"If you quit smoking, lung functioning improves a little bit and then stabilizes so that ... you can live to a ripe old age with only mild impairment," Dr. Scanlon says. "You won't get substantially worse if you quit smoking."

The key, of course, is to quit.

And once you do quit, Dr. Scanlon says COPD treatment options can effectively relieve the cough and make breathing easier, which can drastically improve quality of life.