COPD Signs and Symptoms

COPD Signs and Symptoms That Can Take Your Breath Away

Once COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) has been diagnosed, recognizing COPD signs and symptoms is a necessary step towards treating your illness. Knowing when the symptoms change helps in starting the right treatment on time and precautions can be taken accordingly. Naturally, the most effective way to start is to start early as it preserves the lung functions for a long time. Timely and accurate diagnoses of COPD signs and symptoms will help you and your doctor to determine the type of treatment and whether you should start the treatment at home or at your doctor’s clinic.

So here are the common COPD SIGNS and SYMPTOMS to look for:

Early Warning Signs

Early symptoms of COPD differ from person to person. The symptoms may also be different or similar with each stage in a person. Generally, the person suffering from COPD is the best person to find out if he/she has problem breathing, although, other people around such as family, friends or colleagues, can also notice significant changes. It is important to pass on this piece of information to your loved ones, as a rise or change in COPD signs and symptoms can serve as a warning call.

1. A general feeling of sickness.

2. Increase in sputum production.

3. Increase in stickiness or thickness of sputum.

4. Change in the color of the sputum to green or yellow.

5. Blood traces in the sputum.

6. Feeling short of breath too often.

7. Wheezing and/or coughing.

8. Swelling in the ankle and low muscle endurance.

9. Increased instances of cold or flu.

10. Low sex drive.

11. Sudden and unexplained weight change.

12. Problems falling asleep.

13. Confusion, sleepiness, forgetfulness and slurred speech.

14. Persistently feeling low on energy and fatigue.

15. Having a hard time talking.

16. A fast heartbeat.

17. Not being mentally alert.

18. Blue or gray lips and fingernails.

19. Sleeping on the couch or a chair, and/or using more pillows in order to be able to breathe easily.

20. Morning sickness, morning headaches, restlessness and dizziness.

Not everyone who experiences the above mentioned symptoms has COPD. Similarly, not everyone who actually has COPD experiences these symptoms. Some of the COPD signs and symptoms are the same as other health conditions or lung diseases. Your healthcare provider will be the right person to tell you whether you are a COPD patient. If your symptoms are mild in nature, you may not even know or you may adjust your lifestyle to experience easy breathing. But over a period of time, your symptoms may become serious enough to consult a doctor. For instance, you may have trouble breathing during or post a physical workout.

Severe Symptoms

It is crucial to work with your doctor to decide upon the best treatment for your respiratory problems. Some severe symptoms may require treatment in a hospital. Here are a few guidelines for when to seek emergency care.

1. You have shaking chills or have increased amount of blood in your sputum.

2. You have an acute lung infection and experience confusion, slurred speech, forgetfulness or nausea.

3. Others cannot wake you up easily, and once awake, you feel extremely weak.

4. All of a sudden, you have problem completing your sentences and feel breathless.

5. You have fever above 101 degrees.

6. Your breathlessness does not decrease or stop with bronchodilators.

7. Your ankle swelling stays as it is even after sleeping with a pillow under your feet.

8. You wake up breathless every other day.

9. You experience constant fatigue.

10. The thickness, color, amount or odor of your sputum changes constantly.

11. The recommended treatment for COPD signs and symptoms by your doctor isn’t working.


COPD and other lung conditions have similar symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, chronic cough and shortness of breath. Age is an easy ‘distinguishing factor’ between COPD other lung conditions (such as asthma). Asthma is diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, whereas COPD is diagnosed much later in life. Smoking history is yet another factor that helps differentiate the two. Patients with conditions such as bronchitis or asthma have almost no smoking history, but nearly all COPD patients either have a considerable exposure to tobacco in some way, or have been smokers for a long time.

There are a certain environmental triggers that point out the difference as well. For instance, a patient having COPD will not see much improvement in the ‘symptoms’ if he/she stops smoking and will only prevent further damage by quitting smoking. While a patient suffering from other lung conditions will often experience relief if the triggers (such as smoking, stress, perfume, pollution, weather etc.) are removed. Having COPD means the person’s lungs have developed permanent changes that affect the body’s ability to exhale efficiently. And these changes often get worse with time. But other lungs-related problems (such as asthma), are characterized by airway inflammation, hyper-responsiveness of the airways, and airflow obstruction which may be cured immediately with the help of medications. In most cases, asthma is completely reversible (between exacerbations). However, COPD is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by airway obstruction which is NOT completely reversible. This means that patients with COPD are to some degree, always, symptomatic, whereas asthmatic patients usually do not experience symptoms between asthma attacks.

COPD signs and symptoms

Both COPD and asthma are treated with bronchodilator inhalers which help relaxing the airways, and steroids to reduce inflammation in the airway. However, steroids play a much bigger role and have a stronger impact in the treatment of asthma and various common lung infections, than they do in COPD. So, does suffering from asthma means you are at a risk of developing COPD? Yes, experts suggest.

The severity of your COPD signs and symptoms will depend on the amount of lung damage you have. The things that make your symptoms worse are:

1. Smoking.

2. Taking a lot of cough suppressants.

3. Taking theophylline in unhealthy quantities.

4. Using over-the-counter nasal sprays for many days in a row.

5. Not contacting your doctor when the severe symptoms of COPD exceed for more than 24 hours.

So, what can you do with this information? It’s simple. If you are concerned that you (or someone you know), has these symptoms and may have COPD, talk with your doctor about it. Learn all you can about COPD treatments, form a strong partnership with your doctor, build your support network, lose some weight, STOP SMOKING (if you haven’t already), manage your stress, consult with a pulmonologist and follow your treatment plan.

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