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COPD, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits

For more information on:   Social Security Disability and SSI Disability.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also known as chronic obstructive airway disease (COAD), is a disease characterized by permanent and progressive obstruction of the lung airways that makes it very difficult to breathe due to a lung disorder. The two most common forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Frequently these two diseases are overlapping and if a patient has one, they may have signs and symptoms of another. Asthma is also a type of pulmonary disease, but is only considered chronic and obstructive if it is damaging enough that the airway obstruction involved is fixed or permanent.

Breathing in dust, chemicals and other forms of pollution can also be a cause of the disease or at least contribute to it, but the most common reason for COPD is smoking tobacco. While there are treatments for COPD that make it more comfortable and can open the air passages temporarily, there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The best way to keep from contracting COPD is to not smoke cigarettes and stay away from second-hand smoke and harmful airborne pollutants. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with 80-90 percent of COPD cases being caused by smoking.

COPD affects the lungs physically by causing the air sacs at the end of the airways to collapse or lose elasticity. This causes the air sacs to become floppy and have a hard time filling up with air, causing breathing challenges. Symptoms can range from shortness of breath and a persistent, reoccurring cough, to coughing up mucus, wheezing and intolerance for physical activity and exercise.

No single test alone can diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, though doctors will look at smoking history and environment (for second hand smoke or pollutants) as a way to detect COPD. They will also give a physical examination to determine symptoms of nostril flaring, wheezing, pursed lips, contraction of muscles when breathing and elevated respiratory rate. A spirometer can help determine loss of lung function, X-rays can show hyperinflation of the lungs, a chest CT can determine emphysema and blood tests can show low oxygen and/or high carbon dioxide in the blood. Pulmonary tests can show low airflow and over-expanded lungs.

Treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease usually includes varying types of bronchodilators, which help relax lung airways and allow temporary, improved airflow. Corticosteroids are sometimes used, as well as TNF antagonists, supplemental oxygen and a treatment of counseling, exercise, diet changes and disease management. Antibiotics can help lessen inflammation and infections.

Those with COPD must stop smoking. In extreme cases surgery is sometimes an option to help remove parts of the diseased lung or to conduct a lung transplant.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related Body System Impairments:

Asthma and Filing for Disability
Asbestosis and Filing for Disability
Bronchiectasis and Filing for Disability
COPD and Filing for Disability
Cystic Fibrosis and Filing for Disability
Emphysema and Filing for Disability
Lung Disease and Filing for Disability
Pneumonia and Filing for Disability
Sarcoidosis and Filing for Disability
Sleep Apnea and Filing for Disability
Tuberculosis and Filing for Disability
COPD, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Asthma, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria