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Differences Between COPD and Asthma

Topic Overview

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma both affect the lungs and often have similar symptoms, such as shortness of breath. However, what causes these conditions, how they affect the lungs, and whom they affect differ.

Differences between COPD and asthma
  COPD Asthma
Who?
  • Smokers
  • Mostly older adults
  • Smokers and nonsmokers
  • Any age group
How?
  • Nonallergic response to cigarette smoke or other inhaled toxins
  • Genetic factors
  • Allergic and nonallergic responses to substances that are not usually harmful to people without asthma
Result?
  • Inflammation and damage to airways in the lung and lung tissue
  • Lung function cannot be completely reversed, even with treatment
  • Usually no or little improvement with short-acting beta2-agonists
  • Variable inflammation of the lungs' airways
  • Often have large improvement with short-acting beta2-agonists
  • Some lung function is reversible with treatment
Symptoms?
  • Chronic symptoms that get worse over time
  • Intermittent or persistent symptoms
  • Acute episodes often occur

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last Revised November 29, 2011

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