Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition caused by long-term damage to the lungs that makes breathing difficult. It is most often associated with smoking, but it also can be caused by exposure to chemical fumes, pollutants, and second-hand smoke. COPD is considered to be a combination of two diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. With emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs lose their ability to stretch. Because these sacs help push air through the lungs, they cause a shortness of breath once damaged. Chronic bronchitis involves the narrowing of airways and increased mucous, resulting in a persistent cough and difficulty breathing. Because it takes years for symptoms to appear, COPD typically is diagnosed in those beyond the age of 60. People with COPD are strongly encouraged to quit smoking, as it can slow down – but not reverse – the disease.

The UAB Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine has consistently been recognized among the best programs of its kind by U.S. News & World Report, and it is widely known for its treatment and research of airway diseases, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Our medical team includes nationally recognized pulmonologists, advanced practice nurses, respiratory therapists, exercise physiologists, physiatrists, physical therapists, and other professionals who provide the compassionate care you deserve.

UAB Medicine offers a unique treatment path for patients with COPD. At our dedicated Pulmonary Clinic, patients receive a comprehensive evaluation, a complete treatment plan, and state-of-the-art therapy. For your convenience, a nurse practitioner manages patient care and is available for patient phone calls and care of sick patients during office visits. We consider patient education to be a priority in your care. Patients who are admitted to UAB Hospital (including UAB Hospital-Highlands) with a COPD diagnosis may be enrolled in a care management project that provides enhanced discharge planning services to help manage your condition after your return home. In addition, the UAB Lung Health Center offers new drugs and therapies through clinical research studies, and advanced treatments such as bronchoscopic lung volume reduction and lung transplantation are available to qualified patients.

In some people, a genetic condition can contribute to their lung disease, and UAB may be able to help. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, or simply alpha-1, is a genetic disorder that can result in serious lung diseases such as emphysema and COPD, as well as liver disease. People with these conditions, along with healthy people who know they have alpha-1 in their family, should be tested to see if they have this genetic condition. Alpha-1 testing can be performed by most primary care physicians and pulmonologists. Treatments, including weekly protein infusions, are available for individuals who test positive for alpha-1. These therapies work to slow or prevent further damage to the lungs and overall health. People with alpha-1 can self-refer to UAB Medicine’s Alpha-1 Clinic, a Clinical Resource Center recognized by the Alpha-1 Foundation.


  • zephyr valve thumbnail
    The Zephyr® Valve can improve breathing and quality of life for some patients with severe lung disease.
    This video helps explain how the Zephyr® Valve can improve breathing and quality of life for some patients with lung problems caused by severe emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • FOX 6 Medical Minute: Pulmonary & Thoracic Surgery
    Medical Minute: Pulmonary & Thoracic Surgery
  • Smartphone Technology | promotes pulmonary rehab at home
    Smartphones & Pulmonary Rehab
  • Barbara Frey- Lung Nodule Patient
    Barbara – Lung Nodule Patient

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