Looking to lead a stronger, healthier life?
Sign up for our Wellness Wire newsletter for all sorts of nutrition, fitness, and wellness wisdom.

Now we’re in this together.
Thanks for subscribing and having us along on your health and wellness journey.

See all Healthline's newsletters »

History of COPD

1 of
  • History of COPD

    History of COPD

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow as a person exhales. This makes the process of breathing increasingly difficult. Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthmatic bronchitis all fall under the umbrella of COPD umbrella. Each of these conditions causes ill health and death worldwide.

    Physicians have been tracking the symptoms of COPD for around 200 years. Learn the history of the condition and how far treatment has progressed.

  • COPD as a Leading Cause of Death

    COPD as a Leading Cause of Death

    Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that COPD is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, COPD will be the third leading cause of death worldwide. As many as 24 million diagnosed and undiagnosed adults in the United States have COPD today, according to the CDC.

  • The Early History of COPD

    The Early History of COPD

    COPD is likely not a new condition. In the past, physicians may have used different terms to describe what we now describe as COPD. In 1679, Swiss physician Bonet referred to ‘voluminous lungs’ and in 1769, Italian anatomist Giovanni Morgagni reported 19 cases of ‘turgid’ lungs.

    In 1814, British physician Charles Badham identified bronchiolitis and chronic bronchitis as disabling health conditions. He was the first person to refer to ‘catarrh,’ chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane.


  • The Causes of COPD

    The Causes of COPD

    In 1821, the physician who invented the stethoscope, René Laënnec, identified emphysema as a component of COPD.

    Smoking during the early 1800s was not commonplace, so Laënnec identified environmental and genetic factors as the principal cause of the development of COPD. Today, smoking is one of the leading causes of COPD.

  • The Invention of the Spirometer

    The Invention of the Spirometer

    In 1846, John Hutchinson invented the spirometer, a device that measures vital lung capacity. Robert Tiffeneau, a French pioneer of respiratory medicine, built upon this invention around 100 years later, creating a complete diagnostic instrument for COPD. A spirometer is still an essential tool in diagnosing COPD today.

  • Defining COPD

    Defining COPD

    In 1959, a gathering of medical professional called the Ciba Guest Symposium defined the components that make up the definition and diagnosis of COPD as we know it today.

    In the past, COPD was referred to as “chronic airflow obstruction” and “chronic obstructive lung disease.” Dr. William Briscoe is thought to be the first person to use the term COPD at the 9th Aspen Emphysema Conference in 1965.

  • Smoking and COPD

    Smoking and COPD

    In 1976, Charles Fletcher, a doctor who devoted his life to the study of COPD, linked smoking to the disease in his book, The Natural History of Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema. Along with his colleagues, Fletcher discovered that stopping smoking could help to slow the progress of COPD and that continuing to smoke would accelerate the progression of the disease.

    His work provides the scientific basis for smoking cessation education in people with COPD today.

  • Treating COPD

    Treating COPD

    Until fairly recently, two of the most common treatments for COPD were not available. In the past, oxygen therapy and steroid treatment were considered dangerous for people with COPD. Exercise was also discouraged because it was thought to put a strain on the heart.

    Inhalers and mechanical ventilators were introduced in the early 1960s. The concept of pulmonary rehabilitation and homecare for people with COPD was introduced at the 8th Aspen Emphysema Conference, held in June of 1965.

  • Oxygen Therapy

    Oxygen Therapy

    Oxygen therapy was first trialed in the mid-1960s by a group of researchers at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver, and developed further in the early 1980s. Today, long-term oxygen therapy is the only treatment known to alter the course of COPD.

  • COPD More Recently

    COPD More Recently

    The 1990s saw a surge in the use of medication to manage the symptoms of COPD and restore pulmonary function. A major push in COPD education meant that smoking cessation and clean air awareness became primary focuses of self-care treatment.

    Today, it’s known that a healthy lifestyle can help people with COPD to manage and improve their symptoms. Healthcare professionals stress the importance of diet, nutrition, and physical exercise as part of a COPD rehabilitation program.

  • Preventing COPD

    Preventing COPD

    Over the years, physicians have done much to help us understand the causes, diagnosis, and progression of COPD. The earlier that COPD is diagnosed, the better the long-term prognosis.

    Although there is no cure for COPD, symptoms can be treated, and people with the condition can improve their overall quality of life. Visit the COPD Center for more tips on managing your COPD.