Causes and risk factors of COPD

Cigarette smoke is one of the main causes of the development of COPD. Other factors, including environmental and genetic factors, can also have an impact.


Smoking is the primary cause of COPD.

In general, the main risk factors are cigarette smoke as well as all aggressive substances which may be present in the workplace.

In addition to these environmental factors, genetic factors also play a role in the development of the disease. Only the combination of the two, results in the occurrence of COPD.

The main causes which trigger COPD are therefore:

- Smoking: in nearly 80% of cases. Tobacco consumption is directly linked to the development, evolution and mortality of this disease;
- Occupational exposure to certain pollutants such as toxic gases, cement, solvents, and silica dust;
- Infections such as early childhood bronchopulmonary infections;
- Genetic inheritance, factors which are yet to be determined.

Article drafted under the supervision of Professor Gérard Huchon, Head of Pneumology at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris and Chairman of the Comité National de Lutte contre les Maladies Respiratoires. 

Sources: Chronic respiratory diseases in developing countries: the burden and strategies for prevention and management (WHO Bulletin - collection of articles published in 2002).

Last updated: 27/11/2019

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