From a business perspective, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be extremely expensive both in terms lost work and increased benefits payments, including higher healthcare utilization (COPD patients have two to three times higher hospitalizations than persons without COPD), absenteeism, on-the-job productivity losses, and increased short- and long-term disability claims. Based on sick leave, disability payments and health insurance costs, COPD was ranked as one of the ten most costly diseases to U.S. employers in 1999; in 2004 COPD accounted for $37.2 billion in direct and indirect medical costs. (From the DFWBGH COPD Awareness Program at Southwest Airlines)

Car exhaust According to a 2004 report of the U.S. Surgeon General on the health consequences of smoking, a history of smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke is present in 80% to 90% of COPD cases.

Exposure to tobacco smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. Symptoms of COPD usually appear about 10 years after you start smoking. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke also are at risk.

Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts can irritate and inflame your lungs.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition is a severe form of acid reflux — the backflow of acid and other stomach contents into your esophagus. GERD can make COPD worse and may even cause it in some people.

Age. COPD develops slowly over years, so most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin.

Genetics. A rare genetic disorder known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the source of a few cases of COPD. Researchers suspect that other genetic factors may also make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease.

(Source: Mayo Clinic)