Chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD: bronchitis, emphysema and chronic asthma) is a major medical, psychological, social and economic problem. Breathlessness is one of the most distressing and disabling symptoms of COAD, and it has long been apparent that the condition results in impaired quality of life. Drawing upon sociological and psychological sources, and his own detailed research in this area, Simon Williams sesitively portrays the meaning, experience and impact of COAD. Sufferers' and their families' own accounts are used to portray the various stages and aspects of COAD, ranging from the experience of symptoms and the management of medical regimens, to the practical problems it creates in daily life and the more diffuse and intangible ways in which it impinges on social and family life. He also provides a comprehensive review of the psychosocial literature and concludes by discussing some of the policy implications for health care professionals.