Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow. This makes the process of breathing increasingly difficult. Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthmatic bronchitis all fall under the umbrella of COPD. Each of these conditions decreases quality of life, and 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.
Prevalence of COPD today
Estimates by 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 know as COPD. In 1679, Swiss physician Théophile Bonet referred to “voluminous lungs.” In 1769, Italian anatomist Giovanni Morgagni reported 19 cases of “turgid” lungs.
In 1814, British physician Charles Badham identified chronic bronchitis as a disabling health condition and part of COPD. He was the first person to use the term “catarrh” to describe the ongoing cough and excessive mucus that COPD produces.
Causes of COPD
Smoking during the early 1800s wasn’t commonplace, so Laënnec identified environmental factors, like air pollution, and genetic factors as the principal causes of the development of COPD. Today, smoking is one of the leading causes of COPD. Learn more about the effects of smoking.
Invention of the spirometer
In 1846, John Hutchinson invented the spirometer. This device measures vital lung capacity. Robert Tiffeneau, a French pioneer of respiratory medicine, built upon this invention around 100 years later, creating a more complete diagnostic instrument for COPD. The spirometer is still an essential tool in diagnosing COPD today.
In 1959, a gathering of medical professionals called the Ciba Guest Symposium helped define the components that make up the definition and diagnosis of COPD as we know it today.
In the past, COPD was referred to by names such as “chronic airflow obstruction” and “chronic obstructive lung disease.” Dr. William Briscoe is thought to be the first person to use the term “chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder” at the 9thAspen Emphysema Conference in June of 1965.
Smoking and COPD
In 1976, Charles Fletcher, a physician 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.
Until fairly recently, two of the most common treatments for COPD weren’t 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 home care for people with COPD was introduced at the 9th Aspen Emphysema Conference. Read on to learn about other treatments for COPD.
Oxygen therapy was first trialed in the mid-1960s by a group of researchers at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver, and further developed in the early 1980s. Today, long-term oxygen therapy is the only treatment known to alter the course of COPD.
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 and physical exercise as part of a COPD rehabilitation program.
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’s no cure for COPD, symptoms can be managed, and people with the condition can improve their overall quality of life. Visit this page for more information on COPD.