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How Long Has COPD Been Around?


Although humans have likely dealt with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – an incurable and progressive disease that results from damage to the lungs making it progressively more difficult to breathe – for nearly as long as we’ve had lungs, descriptions of the condition didn’t begin showing up in medical literature until medieval times. (That’s probably at least partially because not much “medical literature” existed in the West prior to the Enlightenment, a philosophy of describing the world through science, which began in the late 17th century.)

According to a 2006 history of COPD in the International Journal of COPD written by Thomas L. Petty, a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver who passed away in 2009, an early reference to emphysema came when Swiss physician Theophile Bonet described a patient’s “voluminous lungs” in 1679.

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