You can have this condition and not even know it — Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) affects around 24 million Americans, and can also affect those who have no history of smoking, according to The COPD Foundation. This November is COPD Awareness month; take some time to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition because early detection is the best way to prevent loss of lung function.

COPD isn't an illness on its own, but rather is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases. While smoking is without a doubt the most common risk factor and cause of COPD, it is possible to develop the condition without having a history of smoking. For example, not everyone who smokes will go on to develop the condition, but according to the COPD Foundation, 90 percent of COPD patients have smoked. So what about the remaining 10 percent?

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can increase your risk of developing COPD, especially if you live or work in an area with high pollution, occupational dusts, or chemicals. In addition, exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke also increases the risk for developing the condition.

Genetic Factors

There are also a number of genetic factors behind COPD, which, when combined with environmental factors, can increase an individual's risk of developing the condition. 

Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD) is the most commonly known genetic risk factor for emphysema. When an individual has an Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, they lack a type of protein found in the bloodstream. Without this protein, white blood cells begin to harm the lungs, and deterioration occurs.

Still, not every COPD patient without a history of smoking has an Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. For this reason, scientists believe there are other not yet identified genetic factors behind COPD, The COPD Foundation reported.

Early Signs And Symptoms

Early diagnosis is one of the most effective ways to manage COPD, but unfortunately a large number of COPD patients do not recognize the signs of their illness, Healthline reported. If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms it's important to speak to a doctor who can give a number of tests to determine if COPD is the root cause.

Long-term ongoing cough

Increased mucus in cough

Shortness of breath

Fatigue

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