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COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema)

In Quebec, 200,000 people are diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This number is an estimate because this disease is under-diagnosed. Indeed, it is believed that 60% to 85% of people with this condition live with it without knowing it. Currently, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. The mortality rate for COPD is highest in Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces.

Emphysema is part of a lung disease known as COPD.

These respiratory diseases, taken together or separately, are called COPD. They reduce your ability to breathe normally. People with COPD suffer from chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both.

Chronic bronchitis is a permanent inflammation of the bronchi often accompanied by hypersecretion of mucus. It is recognized when cough and sputum persist for several months and usually last a little longer each time. Obstruction of the bronchi and excessive secretions will cause more and more shortness of breath over time.

Emphysema is a degenerative, insidious, slowly progressive disease that manifests itself when the pulmonary tissue destroys itself and loses its elasticity. The expiration then becomes more difficult and laborious. This restricted breathing provides a persistent feeling of shortness of breath and fatigue. Unfortunately, emphysema is often diagnosed at an advanced stage.


  • Cigarette smoking: Most cases of emphysema are caused by cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoke reaches deep into the lungs and causes permanent damage. If you have emphysema from cigarettes, the best way to stop your lung damage is to quit smoking as soon as possible. It’s never too late to quit smoking.
  • Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency: Some people have emphysema because of a rare genetic disorder called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency. People with Alpha-1 are missing an enzyme that protects their lungs. Some people with Alpha-1 deficiency get emphysema without ever having smoked. Other people get emphysema from the combination of smoking and having Alpha-1 deficiency.
  • Air pollution, including second-hand smoke: There is some evidence that air pollution can contribute to people getting emphysema, especially in people who also smoke.


There is no cure for emphysema, but it is possible to slow down the disease and make it easier to live with the symptoms.

Some treatments for emphysema:

  • Quitting smoking, and staying away from smoky places. By quitting smoking, you can slow down emphysema. Learn how to quit smoking.
  • Taking medications, which may include pills, puffers, and supplemental oxygen
  • Joining a pulmonary rehabilitation class, a specialised exercise program


Did you know that

The Quebec Lung Association offers direct services to the population. For more information, visit our Patient Resources section.